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Brewbaker on Affordable Housing: No Cranes on Beretania

Wayne Yoshioka

O’ahu needs 2,600 housing units built each year to keep up with population growth. But, building housing that’s affordable is not that easy. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

More than 26-hundred housing units were issued building permits last year on O’ahu.  Less than one third were actually built.  Economist Paul Brewbaker says regulatory requirements underscore why no one is building affordable rental units in urban Honolulu.

“Remember the 3-story cinder-block, walkup with the parking underneath at the corner of Young and McCully by the Korean Bar?  Where we all lived when we got kicked out of our parents’ house?  Remember?  When was that built? Like 1956.  Who builds that kind of building?  Nooo-body.”

But, a limited number of affordable units are available in Kaka’ako.  Block 803 Waimanu is a 7-story building with 153 units, 93 percent in the affordable range for qualified residents.  Real Estate Associate Jenai Hart.

Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Block 803 Waimanu realtor associates (L-R) Nicola Mola and Jenai Hart.

“There’s a max income of 110 percent of AMI (area median income), so $80-thousand net income for a single occupant.  Sixty-two of the units at $276-thousand, those do not come with on-site parking.  And all of our studios are functioning one bedrooms.  There’s a sliding barn door that delineates the sleeping are from the dining area.”   

Block 803 went through 3 major design revisions with the Hawai’i Community Development Authority.   Nicola Mola, a realtor associate at the Block 803 Project, says having zoning, building heights and density entitlements approved beforehand saves time and money.  Their next affordable housing project, in Mo’ili’ili, is the ‘Ohana Hale at 929 Pumehana Street.  Mola says the project is a bargain with a per unit cost of 367-thousand dollars.

“The Pumehana building is gonna be under $60 million to build and we have 180 units on there.   These luxury towers are half billion dollars and they have 200 units.  If we had half a billion dollars, we could have 1,872 units for a half a billion dollars.”

That’s 9 times more affordable housing units.  The Pumehana project is scheduled to break ground in March.  Economist Brewbaker says if you’re waiting for the government to fund more affordable housing you need to be on the lookout for construction cranes.

“I maybe will live on the Mauka side of Beretania at the number 2 bus stop.  Except, I don’t see any cranes on Beretania.  There’s not a single crane on Beretania along the number two bus line.  So, where are regular people gonna live.  That’s where we’re all gonna live.  None of us are gonna live on Auahi Street.  Noooobody.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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