Press "Enter" to skip to content

Kauai apartment residents challenge DHHL as eviction looms

Residents at an apartment complex in Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i, are rallying to fight the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands’ (DHHL) proposed acquisition of their building, which they say would evict about 300 current residents in over 80 units.

In January, DHHL’s request to enter an “Option to Purchase Agreement” to buy the Courtyards at Waipouli apartment complex was approved. Since then, residents claim they’ve received no communication from DHHL about relocation assistance, which is required under the federal Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act.

“The residents are due notice and advisory consultation services from the DHHL, who has been federally funded to acquire this property,” Chris Jungers, co-op housing director at housing advocacy nonprofit Ku Pono ka Leo o ka Aina, or KPKOA, said at a news conference Saturday.

“The residents are really concerned. The main thing is that they don’t have comparable housing on the island. They’re all looking at the same apartment that’s for rent on Craigslist and are really worried about their future.”

Sam Wampler, a Courtyards at Waipouli resident, said when he learned of the purchase request’s approval, he didn’t get any information from DHHL or from the apartment complex itself. He said that while he’s on a monthly lease, the longest lease the apartment complex will give now is for six months.

“We’re being left in the dark,” Wampler said. “There’s just this fear for 80-plus residents to understand that they don’t have a place to go. It’s very hard to find housing here because it’s just so small and there’s not enough development.”

The residents are working on a formal complaint that will be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Region IX — Regional Office of Fair and Housing and Equal Opportunity in San Francisco.

DHHL’s pending purchase of the complex is part of the department’s larger push to deliver about 6,000 homesteads to beneficiaries over the next few years, alleviating a waitlist of almost 30,000. At least 500, and perhaps over 1,100, would be rental homes.

The push for rent-to-own housing for low-income beneficiaries has garnered mixed reactions among beneficiaries and the Hawaiian Homes Commission.

Blossom Feiteira, who serves as KPKOA’s advocacy director, said the organization has been in communication with about 60 beneficiaries who are opposed to DHHL’s acquisition of the Courtyards at Waipouli. The beneficiaries cite two main reasons: They oppose the eviction of the complex’s current residents, and they want to be awarded a homestead lot rather than a rental apartment unit.

Traditionally, DHHL has awarded residential, agricultural or pastoral homestead lots to beneficiaries under 99-year leases costing $1 a year, with lessees paying for their own house.

“Building momentum amongst the beneficiary community has shown us that they’re pretty much aligned with that manao,” Feiteira said. “These beneficiaries want a homestead lease or a lot, not an apartment complex.”

In DHHL’s rent-to-own projects, like the one proposed to take over the Courtyards at Waipouli property, tenants can buy the rental they are awarded after 15 years. No portion of their rent is applied toward a purchase, but the purchase price is based on what was affordable based on household income at the beginning of the tenant’s rental period.

A rental tenant cannot receive a homestead lease upfront, but a bill currently on Gov. Josh Green’s desk — Senate Bill 3236 — aims to make this possible.

Feiteira said the challenge with this system is that those on the upper portion of the waitlist are kupuna, who fear they could die before their 15-year rental period ends. Because they don’t own a lease, they also don’t own the right to name a successor for their rental unit — “the only way a beneficiary can pass on a legacy to the next generation,” she said.

“I think we’re seeing this resistance to beneficiaries being in low-income rentals,” Feiteira said. “It’s precisely because of not wanting to be in a rental and losing successorship rights for 15 years. That’s a significant ask of our beneficiary community to take the chance.”

In a statement to the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser, DHHL said it “continues to endorse this project and remains steadfast in its strategic efforts to alleviate the Hawaiian Home Lands Waiting List.”

Even before DHHL’s purchase request was approved in January, KPKOA and residents at the Courtyards at Waipouli complex had been working to form the first local workforce housing cooperative on Kaua‘i. The effort stems from both a need for affordable housing options on the island but also to preserve Kaua‘i’s shrinking workforce.

For those currently living at the Courtyards at Waipouli apartment complex, the co-op housing model was gaining popularity, especially given the difficulty of finding other affordable housing options on Kaua‘i.

Wampler, who has worked closely with KPKOA on efforts to create the co-op, said that over his three years of living at the complex, rent has increased and “started to come out of the range that (he) can afford.” He currently pays $3,100 a month for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment.

Wampler said that as rents rise, residents on Kaua‘i are forced to leave — contributing to a growing workforce shortage on the island.

“I myself, being here, really witnessed what a low workforce is doing to the place around here. It really needs to change and it’s definite. Anybody can see it,” he said. “I think that if we were able to really create an ability for people to have a more permanent place to stay, especially being a workforce, we can really see a better future for our neighborhood and for Kauai.”

KPKOA policy director Kenna StormoGipson said national experts are working with residents on creating the co-op. Residents are also filing legal paperwork with the state as they search for donors to help fund the co-op’s creation, including asking Kaua‘i County whether it “would consider putting in $10 million to $12 million of subsidy for purchasing the building.”

“We’re hoping the county would consider investing in their local workforce,” StormoGipson said.

For both Courtyards at Waipouli residents and DHHL beneficiaries, Feiteira said she and other advocates are working toward larger goals of clarity for current residents on potential relocation, as well as for beneficiaries on becoming homeowners within a complex.

“It’s a work in progress, and it always is when it comes to advocacy, but I think we need a larger audience to be aware of what is happening in this little place in Kapa‘a on the island of Kaua‘i,” Feiteira said. “The state in general really needs to start paying attention to the workforce, our community and the housing needs.”
Source: The Garden Island

Be First to Comment

    Leave a Reply