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Full steam ahead for vets housing

A planned housing development for veterans received an additional infusion of funding in advance of its construction start date next year.

On Veterans Day, county and state officials celebrated a $145,000 grant awarded to the Hale Na Koa ‘O Hanakahi housing project, a 92-unit development on Kawili Street across from the University of Hawaii at Hilo campus that will provide affordable living for senior veterans and spouses of deceased veterans.

That grant, provided by Nareit Hawaii, is intended to help protect against potential cost overruns for the approximately $45 million project, said Michael Doolittle, chair of the Hawaii Island Veterans Memorial.

Gladys Quinto Marrone, executive director of Nareit Hawaii, said her organization — the Hawaii branch of a Washington, D.C.-based association of real estate investment trusts — wanted to support the project from the first time they read the grant proposal earlier this year.

“We need to support our veterans, and it’s a well-thought-out project with very reputable partners,” Marrone said.

Marian Gushiken, director of real estate development for project developer EAH Housing, said she “doesn’t consider the project fully funded,” with a few million dollars currently tied up with the county. However, she said she expects the final funding for the project to be approved by next year, in advance of a groundbreaking in mid-2022.

The remainder of the existing funding has been provided via grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation, private sources and more.

After the groundbreaking, Gushiken said the development should be move-in ready in 2024.

Prospective residents can sign up for an interest list online, but Doolittle said the list is not a first-come, first-served system.

“There will probably be a lot who won’t sign their name on a list right now, because they need housing now,” Doolittle said. “But the people who sign, they’ll have their income checked to see if they’re eligible, and veterans will get priority. Or veterans’ widows.”

Gushiken said she thinks the development might be the first in the nation to include a preference for surviving spouses of veterans.

The community will include amenities such as a fitness room, dog park, coffee bar and more.

“These will be places for our veterans to age in place gracefully and with dignity,” Gushiken said.

Doolittle said the rental costs for the units will be relegated by income, serving households earning between 30% and 80% of the area median income.

At a grant award ceremony Thursday, county and state officials including Mayor Mitch Roth and Sen. Lorraine Inouye appeared and spoke about the importance of the development. Inouye noted that the state still faces a shortage of about 60,000 affordable housing units.

“This long-overdue project will be a small but significant step in the right direction for Hawaii,” Inouye said.

Inouye also suggested that Roth consider requiring all future affordable housing developments to include some percentage of units that will prioritize veteran residents.

Roth said he has made housing a priority for his administration, and that he intends to fill the island’s 15,000-unit affordable housing shortage by 2025.

More information about the project can be found at eahhousing.org/hilo.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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