Star-Adv: ‘Ohana homebuilding project breaks ground in Waianae’

By Andrew Gomes
June 21, 2017

Developing a new $450,000 ocean-view home on Oahu is not an easy feat. Doing it at a cost of $295,000 is even more unfathomable. Yet 12 local families with moderate to low incomes are doing that in Waianae, where 70 such homes are slated to be built over about two years.

The nonprofit Self-Help Housing Corp. of Hawaii and state officials held a blessing and groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for the project where teams of families will help each other build their own homes.

The initial group, which since May has built floor and wall framing for five homes, includes Michelle Kea, a single mother of two who is a supervisor at Sam’s Club and is building a home with her father, Matthew, and another single parent, Mazie Wan, who will be the first in her family to own a home.

“I would never be able to afford to buy a house without this program,” said Wan, a state employee. “I am thankful to be in the program.”

Self-Help Housing has developed 656 homes in Hawaii over the last 52 years through a process that involves stitching together financing from government sources, other nonprofits and private lenders that help make new homes affordable for people who get construction coaching and put in 16 hours of sweat equity every weekend.

Teams of 11 or 12 households build each other’s homes, which are projected to take about 12 months to finish. Foundation work is expected to start in a couple of weeks after building permits are issued.  

Javon Yancey, who is helping build the initial 12 homes with her husband, Raheen, said she had no construction skills before the project began, and her body hurts after a weekend of work. But she’s excited to learn, and when she’s done she expects her mortgage payment to be close to half her current $2,500 monthly rent.

At the Waianae project, 58 homes will be for households with incomes at or under 80 percent of Honolulu’s annual median, which equates to $66,960 for a couple or $83,680 for a family of four. Another 12 homebuyers will have incomes at or under the 50 percent level, which equates to $41,850 for a couple or $52,300 for a family of four.

Claudia Shay, Self-Help Housing’s executive director, said one key to making homeownership possible for these families is a U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development loan program that reduces the interest rate on a mortgage to between 1 percent and 3.25 percent with no down payment.

“It’s an invaluable program,” she said, adding that Congress is contemplating getting rid of such home mortgage assistance, which if cut could affect who is able to buy the remaining homes in the Waianae project. “We’re just really trying to save this program.”

Self-Help Housing helps interested homebuyers qualify for a purchase, and though the nonprofit has a waiting list of thousands of applicants from residents statewide, Shay encouraged anyone who is interested in the Waianae homes to apply because not everyone on the list is interested in, or qualifies for, every project.

The 70 homes in Waianae are being built with three or four bedrooms and have about 1,200 square feet of living space on hillside lots ranging from 5,000 square feet to 9,000 square feet. The homes, nearly all of which have views of Pokai Bay, are being bought fee simple for $295,000. Shay said the homes when done will be valued at about $450,000. By comparison, the median price for all previously owned homes sold on Oahu last month was $745,000.

Self-Help Housing has been working on the Waianae project for more than five years. The lots were developed by another local developer, Mark Development, which in 2004 tried to complete what then was a mostly built subdivision called Village Poka‘i Bay where local developer Richard Mew built about 400 homes in the early 1990s before a housing market bust left the project undone.

Mark Development, an affordable-housing development firm, initially tried working in partnership with the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to produce the last 125 homes, but instead opted to build market-priced homes at what was dubbed Ke Ola O Poka‘i Bay. Mark Development, however, ran into financial difficulties in the great recession after producing 55 homes, and Central Pacific Bank reclaimed 70 lots around mostly completed roads and other infrastructure in 2011.

Shay set her sights on the lots and thought she had a deal to buy the property for $6 million, but got outbid by a Minnesota investment firm in 2012. Shay said she was devastated after spending a year assembling complex financing, but reached out to the Minnesota investors and offered to increase her bid so they could make a quick profit.

“I was so upset because I knew they didn’t care about anybody in Hawaii,” Shay said. “They were just trying to flip the land to make money.”

Self-Help Housing ended up buying the property in 2013 from the Minnesota firm for $6.2 million, which included $3.1 million from the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., a state agency that helps finance affordable housing.

Two nonprofits, California-based Rural Community Assistance Corp. and Washington, D.C.-based Housing Assistance Council, contributed $3.2 million and $2.5 million, respectively. Shay said it took three years to make the roads acceptable for dedication to the city while Self-Help Housing also finished up a project in Maili.

Read the full article on the Star-Advertiser site.

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