JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Dorie-Ann Kahale fixed her daughter Brandzi's collection of stuffed animals, many of which were given during Easter by neighbors, in the living room of their new home in Kahala on Tuesday. The Kahales are finally starting to settle into their new home after being besieged by media and interviews, including Oprah Winfrey and ABC's "Nightline."
Kahala Avenue Mission update
Families are convinced that Genshiro Kawamoto's gift of rent-free living is sincere, but critics suspect an ulterior motive
Kawamoto -- a fairy godfather?
Japanese billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto has left controversy in the wake of his past real estate dealings in Hawaii, but this time he's being called a fairy godfather.
Since he followed through with his "Kahala Avenue Mission" last month, offering three of his homes rent-free to struggling families, he has left many residents scratching their heads over his generosity.
The families are convinced he is sincere, and now call him their hanai father. But critics still say that given his track record, the elusive Kawamoto is sure to have an ulterior real estate motive.
A special neighborhood committee has even been formed to monitor Kawamoto's properties.
Yet at the same time, the families have been welcomed warmly by their new Kahala neighbors and are enjoying their new homes. So far, there have been no complaints about the new neighbors.
The Kahales and Worleys this week shared a glimpse of life in their new homes with the Star-Bulletin. The third family, the Gusmans, declined to be interviewed.
Genshiro Kawamoto, left, hugged Dorie-Ann Kahale after handing over the keys to a multimillion-dollar home last month. CLICK FOR LARGE
Living in Kahala style
SINCE the dust has settled from Japanese billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto's high-profile offering of three of his Kahala homes to Hawaiian families, rent-free, life in the surrounding neighborhood has resumed much as before.
Residents still walk their dogs at the beach, landscapers continue to trim the hedges, and some homes remain listed for up to $12.5 million.
But the lives of three families have changed dramatically -- from being close to having no home at all to living in multimillion-dollar houses in one of Oahu's toniest neighborhoods.
Kawamoto, who owns more than 20 properties in Kahala, flabbergasted the community when he announced last fall that he would rent some of the homes for between $150 and $200 a month.
The elusive and eccentric billionaire, who heads Tokyo-based commercial real estate firm Marugen Building Co., personally interviewed and selected the families, after his team sifted through more than 3,000 letters from people seeking to live in his "Kahala Avenue Mission."
In late March, he handed keys to three families, along with $1,000 in cash, and said he would let them live in the homes rent-free.
It is unclear whether all the families have a contract or not, but Kawamoto said at the time they could live rent-free for two years, with terms renewable up to 10 years or until the youngest child graduates from high school.
Critics said Kawamoto was trying to devalue the neighborhood by filling in swimming pools, tearing down fences and moving in low-income families.
At least one neighbor was unhappy with the construction, believing he had violated city codes.
Even homeless advocates say Kawamoto could have done more good by donating money, building affordable housing elsewhere or giving the families the option of home ownership.
They cited his track record of letting dozens of homes he had purchased in Hawaii Kai and Portlock deteriorate and then selling them from beneath the tenants. They question his real estate motives, even his bravado for inviting a media circus to his generous act.
The Kahala Community Association and the Kahala Neighborhood Board have formed a new joint committee to monitor the Kawamoto homes.
According to Anita Bruhl, a member and a Realtor, the committee wants to make sure the homes are maintained according to city rules as well as deed covenants specific to Kahala.
Bruhl said that so far she's been impressed with the two tenants she's met.
"They're lovely," she said.
But she still has doubts about Kawamoto's sincerity.
At least two home sales fell out of escrow because of news about Kawamoto's plans, according to Bruhl.
Home prices also have dropped in the area, although that is in keeping with the entire island's slowing residential real estate market.
No complaints have been recorded in connection with the new neighbors.
Richard Turbin, chair of the Waialae-Kahala neighborhood board, said that so far all seems well.
"They seem to be very responsible, nice and working hard," he said. "We'd rather have that than just have the properties sit fallow and looking horrible. We just hope that continues to be the case, and that the properties are maintained."
So far, Kahala neighbors have been warm and welcoming, according to the families.
The Kahales and Worleys shared a glimpse of life in their new homes with the Star-Bulletin. One called Kawamoto a hanai father, the other called him a "fairy godfather."
The third family, the Gusmans, declined to be interviewed.