SA: Native Hawaiian homestead nonprofit buys Kauai affordable rental property

By Jayna Omaye, Star-Advertiser, 18 March 2022

A Native Hawaiian homestead nonprofit recently purchased an affordable rental property on Kauai, advancing a first-of-its-kind project. The nonprofit’s leaders say the initiative is an effort to keep more rentals at affordable rates, particularly during the economic challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Homestead Community Development Corp., which seeks to grow rural economies on or near Hawaiian home lands, closed on the six-unit Halenani Street Apartments in Lihue, in December. It cost about $825,000.

HCDC Deputy Director Kara Chow said it’s the first time HCDC is managing a rental property, as well as the nonprofit’s first project not located on Hawaiian home lands.

“It’s a great milestone for us. There’s so much more out there that we can accomplish and can move forward for our community,” she said. “We’re looking forward to this being the first step in many great things to come.”

Robin Danner, chair of the Sovereign Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, which founded HCDC in 2009, said she had contacted a Realtor in June 2020 in search of affordable rental properties. She said their board realized that the pandemic would likely “wreak havoc” on affordability for both home sales and rentals.

Although HCDC has focused on projects on Hawaiian home lands, she said they also want to be part of the solution in dealing with Hawaii’s affordable housing crisis. They hope to replicate the rental project now in the works on the other islands, she said.

The deed to the property was transferred to HCDC in January, Danner said. All of the apartment’s existing tenants will continue living there, and Danner said they will maintain rent at 80% area median income or below. Some of the tenants are Native Hawaiian, she said.

Chow added that revenue generated from the apartment property will help to further build HCDC’s job creation and workforce development efforts.

The initiative comes shortly after HCDC opened a cafe on Hawaiian home lands in Anahola, Kauai, marking the first time it led an effort to open a business like a restaurant. Chow and Danner said they hope their pursuits can serve as a model for other homestead communities to follow.

“We need to do more of it,” Danner said. “We recognized that in addition to our focus on trust lands, we needed to be part of the solution of the challenges facing all Hawaii residents.”

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