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Kukui Gardens prays for stimulus


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POSTED: Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Community organizers whose efforts helped save Kukui Gardens as an affordable housing complex were back in action yesterday at a prayer vigil calling for lawmakers and local bankers to support their plan despite the grim state of the economy.

About 30 people gathered on Liliha Street to hear members of Faith Action for Community Equity and Kukui Gardens Residents Association express prayers they hope are heard six blocks away, at City Hall and the state Capitol.

They seek a share of the $825 billion economic stimulus package now before Congress, said the Rev. Bob Nakata, FACE president. “;When the money starts flowing, it will flow through the city and the state government. We are trying to get on their lists.”;

Specifically they want help to make $21 million of affordable housing tax credits available for developers to stimulate expansion of the project. FACE coordinator Nancy Young said a mainland bank, Massachusetts Mutual, bailed out of a commitment to invest late last year. “;We have banks in Hawaii and we need their help.”;

Nakata said, “;We don't want to see the victory of a year ago turn into ashes.”; FACE and the tenant group filed suit to force the original owners of the 875-unit housing project to find new owners that would keep it affordable. The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. now holds half of the property, which will remain in affordable rentals.

Plans are to build new affordable units to replace about 400 units that were bought by a California developer and can be upgraded to market-rate housing after 2012.

“;We love this home, we don't like to become homeless,”; said 82-year-old Yun Don Chun, a Kukui Gardens resident since it opened in 1970. He said he retired from an Outrigger Hotels parking job, never able to afford a more expensive home for his family. His children have moved on, leaving Chun and his wife “;happy in this safe place. If we had to leave, I don't know where we would go.”;

Carol Anzai, president of the residents association, said the nonprofit Ecumenical Association for Housing, which leases and administers the low-income housing, intends to build but “;can't move until the state acts.”;

The Rev. Sam Domingo, pastor of Keolumana United Methodist Church, urged the crowd to talk to state and city lawmakers. “;Prayer is effective when it has legs, arms, movement. Raise your voices, your hands ... to help our brothers and sisters have a home to live in.”;