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Transitional housing project opens in West Hawaii

(Na Kaulana Kauhale O Ulu Wini complex in Kaloko. Hawaii 24/7 photo by Baron Sekiya)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Editor

A low-income rental and transitional housing complex in West Hawaii, which also will provide job training and life skills was formally opened Tuesday by Mayor Billy Kenoi’s Administration.

Known as Na Kaulana Kauhale O Ulu Wini, the 96-unit project is being built by the county Office of Housing and Community Development and will be operated by Hope Services Hawaii.

Funding for the first phase was provided through a county Capital Improvement Project appropriation of $7.5 million, and a U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Stabilization Program No. 1 Grant of $4.87 million, which was awarded through the state Housing Finance and Development Corporation.

The next phase of 36 units and an employment training facility will also be a mix of HUD and county money, including another $4 million from a Neighborhood Stabilization Program No. 3 Grant.

The initial 40 units will offer case management, mail and computer access along with an array of on-site social services, including employment and life skills training, mental health services, counseling and childcare.

The first families may move in beginning next month.

(The master bedroom in a unit. Hawaii 24/7 photo by Baron Sekiya)

“If we truly represent aloha, then we have to not just talk about projects,” Kenoi said. “We have to deliver. It’s not about plumbing or electricity or construction, it’s about children who can come home after school and be safe.”

Kenoi praised the cooperation between county departments, staff and Hope Services Hawaii, especially because the project serves the most vulnerable members of the community.

“When we sat down to talk about this, we said, ‘let’s do something beautiful,’” Kenoi said. “Let’s not just put up four walls and say we did something good.”

The complex features 28 low-income units, targeted for families that earn 30 to 50 percent of the area median income. The balance of the units, which are identical two-bedroom, 750-square-foot homes, will be made available for homeless families for up to two years, in return for in-kind services.

The project and programs will give preference to families experiencing homelessness.

Brandee Menino, Hope Services executive director, said maintenance is a barrier for homeless families seeking permanent shelter. For example, some may have criminal records, problems with substance abuse, or a poor rental history.

The program at Na Kaulana Kauhale O Ulu Wini will help train families to be proud of where they live and to take care of their surroundings, she said.

(Hawaii 24/7 photo by Baron Sekiya)

“We want them not only to survive,” Menino said. “We want them to thrive. We’re providing the opportunities.”

The complex on Hina Lani Street features a community center with laundry facilities, a common kitchen and meeting area, administrative offices, and a multi-purpose meeting room. The community will be powered via photovoltaic energy, with 80 percent of the water needed for irrigation produced by the on-site wastewater treatment plant.

Steve Arnett, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, said Kenoi empowered him to make tough decisions that are sometimes necessary for success.

“He said here’s your project, then he got of the way and let us do it,” he said. “What you see here is the result of that direction by our mayor.”

Arnett also noted the project came in on time and under budget.

Elizabeth Maluihi Lee, a noted Kona weaver who grew up in the Kaloko area, said she enjoyed the area as a youth, listening to the wind blowing through the trees and the sounds of animals as she walked from her home in the mauka area to the shoreline via a nearby trail.

“Back then, there was only lehua, lama and some kukui,” she said, noting that most of the native forest has disappeared. “But the buildings are growing now, taking their place. They are reviving the life of Ulu Wini.”

The transitional component replaces the former Kawaihae Transitional Housing Project, which had to be shut down after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered its large-capacity cesspools closed.

The closure of the Kawaihae facility is nearly complete and 20 of the structures have been moved to Pahoa where they will be remodeled and used as emergency housing.

Na Kaulana Kauhale O Ulu Wini is the second new housing complex to be dedicated in the last week.

On Friday, Kenoi opened Kamakoa Nui Model Homes and 12-acre community park, which will eventually be a 1,200 unit workforce housing community near employment centers in Waikoloa.

(Hawaii 24/7 photo by Baron Sekiya)

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