Kali Watson, president of the Hawaii Community Development Board, which is spearheading the project, says it would help fill a need for affordable senior housing in the area.
“We want to generate as many units as we can in order to accommodate and address the tremendous need in the community for kupuna housing,” Watson said.
But the new development worries residents who live on the property in cramped quarters between Algaroba Street and Makahiki Way near the Old Stadium Park. The land under their apartments has switched hands several times in the last couple of years, and is now owned by University Park Apartments.
Watson’s nonprofit company has yet to acquire the parcels of land for the project, but he said he would help to relocate current tenants.
Some in the area think a high rise will be going up on the property, others have no idea they may soon need to move out. And while all the tenants know to make their monthly rent checks out to University Park Apartments, many aren’t sure who exactly the money goes to now.
“It’s not very aloha to do things on the sneaky like that,” said James George, a tenant at the apartments.
Watson’s Hawaii Community Development Board focuses on affordable housing developments on Oahu. One of the nonprofit’s projects, Hale Makana O Maili, recently faced opposition from the surrounding neighborhood.
The HHFDC granted it just under $1 million worth of tax credits to sell for equity. Watson said he still has to secure investors for the project as well as building permits from the City and County of Honolulu.
He also needs to show proof that he has funding before he can acquire the two parcels necessary for the project. One includes the apartment complex, the other has a single family residence on it. Both are owned by University Park Apartments, a company that tenants didn’t know much about.
Plans are to break ground next year, but Watson said that’s a tight deadline. There isn’t a set construction timeline yet, but he said the last building is scheduled for completion in 2022.
As part of the land deal, and to keep some of the housing credits necessary to cover construction costs, HCDB has a 55-year lease, during which the units will be restricted to those making 60% or less of area median income. The current annual median income in Moiliili is $51,540.
The site was chosen for its proximity to transit services, Watson said.
“In addition to providing affordable rental housing for kupuna age 55 and older, an important objective of this project is to provide safe, suitable rental housing for our low-income elderly living independently and struggling financially to make their way through life,” a description of the project on HCDB’s website says.
What About Tenants?
The complex now has about five buildings with a narrow lane running between them from Makahiki Way to Algaroba Street.
Some of the apartments were first built in the late 1920s and refurbished in the 1960s, according to land records. One building had work done as recently as 2012.
George, a tenant, said he had heard about the project but that most of the tenants have been kept out of the loop on what’s actually going on.
It’s not clear how much discussion the landowners have had with area residents, though some residents told Civil Beat they were informed of the project by their property manager.
George isn’t sure who actually owns the 27-unit apartment complex he lives in. Since he moved in four years ago, he’s seen two different owners and at least three different property managers.
On paper, the landowner is University Park Apartments, where the tenants send their rent payments.
But that’s a limited partnership, of which the sole partner is 2139 Algaroba LLC, which is managed by Hawaii Investment LLC, owned by Louis Luo, Johnny Lee and Ryan Au, according to business records filed with the state.
None of the Hawaii Investment LLC’s owners could be reached for comment. Luo’s family said he was in China and unavailable. The property manager also did not return a call for an interview.
George said he has been looking for contingency plans. He’s looked at places to rent downtown or on River Street, he said.
Still, moving could be hard. He has one leg and moves around in a wheelchair. He sat in his doorway holding his black Chihuahua, Peanut, on one side of his lap and an ashtray in the other.
“If there’s any kupuna in the group of existing tenants, we’ll definitely give them help to the extent we can.” — Kali Watson, Hawaii Community Development Board
He also has two cats, and needs a place that’s wheelchair accessible.
George lived in the University Park apartments for four years, and said all the tenants were recently forced into six-month leases instead of the usual year-long leases.
Watson said that he plans to help families living there with relocation as well as give preference for the new units to current elderly tenants who may be eligible.
“If there’s any kupuna in the group of existing tenants, we’ll definitely give them help to the extent we can,” he said. “It is an unfortunate situation, where you could say we’re displacing residents, and then converting it to a more usable property.”
Not all of the tenants have fall-back plans like George.
Willi Wieneke, who moved in several months ago, was unaware of the coming construction. The 74-year-old recently had a stroke, he said, which makes moving around hard.
Wieneke has striking blue eyes and stood shirtless in the sun talking to Civil Beat one morning. He said he likes the current management because they “no bother.”
His stroke, along with his advancing age, has made it hard to do daily activities. He sometimes falls down while walking to the store, he says. Even propped up against a door, he has a hard time standing.
“I’m just waiting out,” he said. “And see how long I live.”
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Blaze Lovell is a reporter for Civil Beat and a graduate of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He was born and raised on Oahu. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @blaze_lovell