ANAHOLA, Kauai — A prominent Native Hawaiian advocacy organization is offering financing, plans and material lists so residents can build simple quarantine structures to protect kupuna and members of large extended families that feel the need to create more separation in their living situations.
As one local Native Hawaiian political leader put it, the project may be as valuable as a tool of community empowerment as it is a practical contribution to ways to fight the COVID-19 emergency.
The project is the latest step to help Native Hawaiians counter the crisis by the Homestead Community Development Corp., with offices here and in Honolulu. The corporation will be offering below-market-rate financing for people who want to build the quarantine structures, which will cost between $2,000 and $7,500 depending on the design. Some may be basic boxes. Others may have windows and one design even has a sliding glass door.
Payment plans will be offered that range from $90 per month spread over two years to $183 per month when spread over 48 months. Only residents of Department of Hawaiian Home Lands properties are eligible for the loan and construction program.
Robin Danner, CEO of the organization, said over the weekend that 28 inquiries were received from families on Kauai, Hawaii island, Oahu, Maui and Molokai in the first 24 hours after word started to spread informally in the community.
“That was just with the coconut wireless,” said Danner, who said a more formal marketing and application process will be introduced this week.
She said loan decisions will not be based on credit scores. “I want to say to our homestead families this is not the time to question what you assume your credit score to be. Let us worry about that. This is not the time to deny your elders a quarantine unit because you’re afraid you won’t qualify for a loan.”
The structures are square, with pitched roofs. They are designed to house people in the short term but could be repurposed for storage once the COVID-19 danger has passed. The sheds are about 8-feet square and small enough that they fall below the minimum size for which a building permit is required.
The projects are intended to be do-it-yourself affairs. Loan recipients will receive a list of tools and materials they will need, as well as a manual to walk them through the construction. Danner said the development corporation hopes to work with Honsador Lumber to obtain favorable pricing for materials, which mostly consist of plywood, 2-by-4s and roofing shingles.
“I think COVID-19 has revealed some of our complacency,” Danner said. “We’re overcrowded. We just kind of accept it, but COVID-19 has made it unacceptable now because it’s dangerous. We could be hurting our kupuna and our family members. It’s unacceptable and it’s not insurmountable. We need an elder defense line.”
She said she has watched with growing alarm as the Native Hawaiian community is, essentially, forced to accept even greater overcrowding in housing because of deteriorating economic situations.
Native Hawaiians, she said, will likely be disproportionately affected by unemployment rates that grow exponentially with every day the virus crisis lasts.
A result will be that more and more people must jam into houses that already hold highly concentrated multigenerational families.
“This solution is so simple, but we just put up with overcrowding,” she said, “but it’s overcrowding in which some of our family members may live in a tent, or who are homeless in a tent.”
Construction of the first quarantine building was set to begin over the weekend at a site in Anahola. Danner declined to provide an address to protect the privacy of the family that lives on the property, but she provided images of a prototype, along with the piles of materials that will be used in building each shed.
She said loan customers will not be required to use Homestead Community Development Corp. plans or buy materials through the organization. She said an initial $200,000 in seed capital has already been raised and that development corporation staff members will be trained in processing loan applications, which could start moving through the process on Monday.
She said her nonprofit organization is qualified to operate as a community development financial institution and that operating costs to get loan officers on staff and train them are funded under an existing grant from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.
Kipukai Kualii, a Kauai County Council member who happens also to be a DHHL lessee and lives near where the first of the sheds is being constructed, said the small structures are “another solution, though not necessarily to the long term housing problem.”
But, he said, “many of our families live in overcrowded homes, and in the sense that people are trying to do quarantine and isolation and social distancing, it’s hard for people to do that in a crowded home.
“This is another small solution to give people options. It’s another example of the kind of community empowerment that our homestead leaders are doing.”
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