About the Authors

Kenna StormoGipson

Kenna StormoGipson is the housing policy director for KPKOA. She has published several research papers on affordable housing in Hawaii and has led delegations to Finland, Spain, Colorado and Texas in search of best practices in housing and homeless services. She can be reached at kenna@kpkoa.org.

Blossom Feiteira

Blossom Feiteira is the advocacy director for KPKOA — Kū Pono ka Leo o ka ‘Āina — which means “Standing with the Voices of the Land.” KPKOA works to advance solutions to our housing crisis by lifting up the voices of those most impacted. Feiteira is a Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiary and has spent 30 years advocating for beneficiaries to be awarded their homestead leases and maintain their connection to Hawaii. She can be reached at blossom@kpkoa.org.

Teachers, health care providers, Costco and Safeway workers who live at Waipouli will all be competing in a very tight housing market.

Chase Hasegawa and his wife Isabelle Reed were born and raised on Kauai and have achieved a measure of housing stability, which is rare for people in their 20s in Hawaii. They both work service jobs at a shave ice store and a donut shop, but for the past four years they have managed by sharing their apartment with another couple. Now the life they built and that of 81 other households is facing the threat of eviction. 

On Jan. 26, the Hawaiian Home Lands Commission voted to approve the request of Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Chair Kali Watson to enter into “an option to purchase” the 82 unit Courtyards of Waipouli in Kauai. The chair pushed for the proposal citing the need to spend down federal funds for Native Hawaiians.

Watson also pointed to a last minute email survey sent to Kauai beneficiaries with a response rate of 4.5% which reported that 40% “would be very interested in accepting a townhome at Courtyards at Waipouli as their homestead.”

The commissioner from Kauai, Dennis Neves, protested that the email survey was comprised of leading questions, did not accurately depict the mostly 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom apartments of Waipouli (they are not townhomes), and that the proposal is for rentals with an option to purchase after 15 years.

This is not the picture of “homestead leases” that most beneficiaries have in mind. Neves reminded the commission of a professional survey conducted in 2020 by SMS research in which condominium living was the least popular option, with less than 1% selecting it as their top choice.

Beneficiaries who attended the hearing were also overwhelmingly against the proposal, with 32 in opposition and only two from Oahu in support.

“Our people want land,” cried out Kainoa McDonald while presenting a petition signed by over 130 members of the Association of Hawaiians for Homestead Lands.

For Chase Hasegawa, who is 20% Native Hawaiian and does not meet the 50% threshold to be a Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiary, the idea of being evicted from his apartment for other Hawaiians who strongly prefer leasehold land does not make sense.

DHHL Chair Kali Watson is looking to buy the 82 unit Courtyards of Waipouli in Kauai in spire of some local opposition. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“I have family members in Kekaha that are on the beneficiary list, however, they would not want to live in this building. They are wanting to have land where they can spread out,” he testified.

Isabelle Reed also pleaded with the commission to reconsider. “It is really hard to find places that are affordable, please keep us in mind as residents,” she implored.

She and the other Waipouli residents who petitioned in opposition have reason to be worried. Kauai simply does not have 82 affordable rentals available. As an example, Waipouli has 42 apartments that are 2-bedroom and have rents below $3,000 a month. Currently, there are only eight 2-bedroom apartments across the entire island at that price.

Teachers, health care providers, Costco and Safeway workers who live at Waipouli will all be competing in a very tight housing market. They will either pay more for housing or leave the island. And Kauai already has a dire local workforce shortage.

A dentist from Waipouli, Yunsang Park, spoke on this. “Medical offices are all looking for employees because there are none on the island. Three hygienists I work with have left due to lack of housing. Evicting all of the current residents will worsen the housing crisis and labor shortage. Please take into account the people that live and work on Kauai,” he urged.

Kauai already has a dire local workforce shortage.

Unfortunately, the commission did not. Even with every resident from Kauai testifying in opposition, two commissioners from Big Island and two from Oahu voted with Watson in the 5-to-3 decision to spend $25 million in DHHL funds for the acquisition.

Fortunately, this is not the final funding approval needed. Although the building appraised for $44 million, the DHHL deal requires another $29 million in public funds due to converting Waipouli to a low-income rental. Later this month DHHL plans to submit an application to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation for the remaining funds.

In total, Waipouli will cost taxpayers $54 million for a rental apartment that Hawaiian beneficiaries do not want, while at the same time evicting over 100 local workers and exacerbating the housing and workforce shortage on Kauai. This does not seem like a wise use of public funds.

There is a better option.

For the past four months Waipouli residents have been organizing to form a “local workforce housing cooperative” with support from national experts in cooperative housing. Cooperative housing is where the building is owned by a corporation and then residents own shares in exchange for a “right of occupancy” to their unit.

Oahu currently has three successful housing cooperatives. Residents control the building and costs have only increased 1-2% a year instead of the 5-10% increases we see with private market rentals. Waipouli would be Kauai’s first housing cooperative.

Realizing this vision will require some investment by the county and other partners but it would allow the 70% of residents who work locally to stay and minimize disruption to the Kauai economy.

Everyone agrees Kauai has a worker shortage, so let’s help solve the problem instead of making it worse.

Click here to support a workforce co-op.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.


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About the Authors

Kenna StormoGipson

Kenna StormoGipson is the housing policy director for KPKOA. She has published several research papers on affordable housing in Hawaii and has led delegations to Finland, Spain, Colorado and Texas in search of best practices in housing and homeless services. She can be reached at kenna@kpkoa.org.

Blossom Feiteira

Blossom Feiteira is the advocacy director for KPKOA — Kū Pono ka Leo o ka ‘Āina — which means “Standing with the Voices of the Land.” KPKOA works to advance solutions to our housing crisis by lifting up the voices of those most impacted. Feiteira is a Hawaiian Home Lands beneficiary and has spent 30 years advocating for beneficiaries to be awarded their homestead leases and maintain their connection to Hawaii. She can be reached at blossom@kpkoa.org.


Latest Comments (0)

This is just gentrification by another name. The people who have more economic means buy out and replace those who don't. In this case, the means are a getting government to spot them $29m of low income housing funds and covering the rest from a reparations fund. Then they use their means to buy out the renting class. (And yeah, it sucks for the renters.)I'm unbothered by gentrification when it happens in other contexts and I'm unbothered by it in this context. It's the market at work. Expecting or placing emotional obligations for DHHL to somehow act magnanimous and lookout for others over it's beneficiaries just seems fallacious. Why does DHHL got to be above the fray when everyone else in the housing market is only looking out for their own family. (DHHL's mission is to look out for it's own waitlistees.)What bothers me is that we're too stuck up and stupid to build new housing stock to replace the gentrification. If DHHL buys an 82 unit block of apartments, approve an 82 unit replacement. This is not complex stuff. The only holdup is that we chose to not approve replacements and then hand wring about the problems that causes.

heluhelu · 2 weeks ago

Leave. The people. Be. Let them live there and find a different Ave. to provide for Natives. Period. Malama People!!

JessePayne · 2 weeks ago

DHHL has again proven to be inept. What says COK? Is mr. Mayor going to chime in, or keep his head down so as to not upset the State?

carpadiem · 2 weeks ago

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