The Kobayashi Group is moving ahead with a 43-story residential high rise that will take the place of 124 rental units on Kapiolani Boulevard.

Tarryn Porath and her 9-year-old daughter Amira are happy living at Kapiolani Village Apartments, a 6-minute walk from Prince Jonah Kuhio Elementary School, where Amira is a third grader.

Amira likes to roller skate on the street downstairs and draw pictures in chalk on the concrete breezeway outside their two-story walk-up apartment.

But all that is about to end.

The 124 apartments at Kapiolani Village will soon be torn down to make way for a 43-story high rise condominium called Kuilei Place, planned by the Kobayashi Group, a local real estate firm.

“I really like living here; I don’t want to move,” said Porath, who works in insurance sales, standing on her lanai on a sunny afternoon, while Amira listened and watched.

“She doesn’t want to switch schools and find new friends and all,” she said.

Tarryn Porath
Tarryn Porath has lived at Kapiolani Village with her daughter for two years and hates the thought of having to move her to a new school when the housing complex is demolished. (Kirstin Downey/Civil Beat/2023)

But the Poraths and more than 120 other families at Kapiolani Village, located on a cul-de-sac off Kapiolani Avenue near Date Street, are going to have to leave. Their apartment complex is being torn down to be replaced by what the developer, the city and the state all say are essential units needed to address the home ownership crisis.

One- and two-bedroom units at Kapiolani Village that now rent from about $1,400 to $1,800 a month will be replaced by condominium units that are expected to sell from between $370,000 to $1.25 million.

About 60% of the new condo units will sell at prices affordable to households that earn between $104,500 and $158,600 for a family of four.

The Kobayashi Group is being permitted to build a 400-foot tower on the site, normally zoned with a 150-foot height limit. Kobayashi says it will contain 603 affordable units, with the rest of the total 1,005 units at market rates.

In a statement, the Kobayashi Group told Civil Beat that nearly 4,000 people have expressed interest in buying one of the units.

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The new project, promoted as an answer to the housing crisis, is being constructed under the increasingly controversial 201H program. This state law allows developments to bypass the normal city permit review process. City officials have only 45 days to accept, deny or modify projects that have been approved by a state agency, the Hawaii Housing and Finance Development Corp.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has also proposed substantial changes to city permitting processes to reduce regular lengthy delays.

A new condo tower called Kuilei Place is planned for the site of Kapiolani Village, but it will displace current residents. (Screenshot/Hawaii News Now)

Scores of real estate industry employees testified in support of the project, saying the new condominium housing was badly needed because it’s aimed at middle-income professionals who have been priced out of home ownership on Oahu.

Spencer Lee, an executive with Central Pacific Bank, told the council: “The site for the project with all of its walk-ups is currently not utilized in its highest and best use, so let’s use this site to move the community forward.”

The resolution for the Kuilei Place exemptions was filed Dec. 29, first heard by the Committee on Zoning on Jan. 11 and adopted by the City Council Jan. 25, waiving about $12 million in permit fees to help speed the project along. The value of the zoning variances granted to the developer was $40 million, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Update: This story has been updated to clarify the timeline for the hearing and adoption of the resolution.

City officials negotiated for more affordable units in the project and then unanimously gave it their endorsement. Council member Calvin Say, who represents the district and serves as chair of the council zoning committee, shepherded the process at the city level.

Say did not respond to a request for comment about the renters who now live on the site.

Community advocate Christine Otto Zaa asked the City Council to visit the site and talk to residents, “so you can see whose lives you are impacting,” but there was no indication any of the council members had done so.

At a zoning committee meeting on Jan. 11, council member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam, who represents a neighboring district, said some local residents had expressed concern about the existing tenants on the site.

He asked the developer, Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, what the Kobayashi Group intended to do to help the renters.

“I know the market for folks trying to find a rental is difficult,” Dos Santos-Tam said.

Pakkala responded that tenants would be offered two months free rent and relocation assistance that would be made available for the four months before their eviction.

“We remain committed to supporting residents who currently reside on the property,” Pakkala said in a statement.

Two Kapiolani Village residents are applying to purchase a home in the new high rise that will replace the current units. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Housing Comes At A Cost

Now that the project has been approved, some Kapiolani Village residents question why they are being moved out so that other moderate-income people can move in. They said that building new affordable housing seems more important to elected officials than protecting the housing of current residents.

Two Kapiolani Village residents are applying to purchase a home in the new high rise, according to the Kobayashi Group. Market-rate units are being offered to owner-occupant Hawaii residents for 60 days.

Other housing programs have more help for tenants. When federal funds are used, there are strict rules concerning tenant displacement. The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970 requires builders who displace residents to provide them with free housing for up to 42 months and pay to move them. 

These laws have been enacted over the years because government-endorsed urban renewal in the past has often resulted in gentrification, with lower-income people ejected to make way for the more affluent.

The Kobayashi project, however, does not need to comply with federal relocation guidelines because it is privately financed.

Tenants currently pay between $1400 and $1800 per month at Kapiolani Village. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

In March, the Diamond Head board singled out council member Say for his role in what they called “fast-tracking” the project. About 20 people have signed a petition seeking Say’s recall.

In February, Say was addressed by angry McCully board members.

Say told them that the city needs to provide 22,000 housing units to resolve the island’s housing shortage and the Kobayashi project would provide much-needed affordable housing.

He said that many housing projects in Hawaii are stopped by Not-In-My-Backyard activists, and more must be done now. McCully board members protested that characterization, saying that they have not opposed appropriate projects.

Laura Ruby, a member of the McCully board, said that some of the people who live in Kapiolani Village are already living “paycheck to paycheck.”

Porath appreciates the two months’ free rent that she has been told she will receive but wonders where she will find a place to live so that her daughter can remain in the same school.

“We will try to stay somewhere in the area,” she said, looking out from her front door. “Will it be more expensive? We are budgeted for this.”

Struggling To Get By” is part of our series on “Hawaii’s Changing Economy” which is supported by a grant from the Hawaii Community Foundation as part of its CHANGE Framework project.

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