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KukuiOla homeless village yet to bring construction

A homeless village first discussed in 2017 and expected to be completed in May has yet to begin construction.

Hawaii County’s plan for KukuiOla homeless village in Kailua-Kona was developed after then-Mayor Harry Kim ordered police to evict dozens of people illegally residing at Old Kona Airport Park in May 2017. Initial plans called for permanent housing for at least 100 of West Hawaii’s homeless residents to address the situation considered an emergency.

A final environmental assessment with a finding the KukuiOla and Village 9 Affordable Rental Community project would have no significant impact was published in November 2019, allowing the project to move forward.

Sharon Hirota of the county’s Office of Housing and Community Development on Tuesday said pre-construction requirements are still in the works.

Shani Armbruster of Tinguely Development said there are a lot of stakeholders involved with different things they needed to see satisfied before they were allowed to move forward with the project.

“I think we are close, but it is certainly taken longer than everybody hoped,” she said.

One of the hold-ups is the developer is still waiting on county permits for grubbing and grading, which were applied for in late April.

“The project is actually being performed under an emergency proclamation from Governor Ige, which had allowed us to skip all of those things. But recently we were told by one of the stakeholders that they would be requiring that permit. We went in for the permit and there are still some pieces that need to be satisfied,” she said.

Armbruster said once the project moves forward, they anticipate an eight to 10 month completion.

At the time of the September groundbreaking and blessing of the site located at the corner of Kealakehe Parkway and Ane Keohokalole Highway in Kailua-Kona, contractor Phil Tinguely estimated it would be complete by May.

“The Office of Housing and Community Department is working tirelessly with its development partner and County departments to complete all of the pre-construction requirements and anticipates that construction will begin soon,” Hirota said. “The first phase of this project includes grading for entire property, access roadway, 16 units, community pavilion and kitchen, hygiene and laundry facilities, office space, dedicated safe parking and a green space.”

The project has a budget of $10 million for the first phase, with Funding coming via the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation and Ohana Zones initiative, which was allocated by the state Legislature in 2018. The 1,400-foot access road comes with a $4 million price tag.

Hirota said no decision has been made as to who will be managing the project once completed and the county will be working with the finance department on securing a property manager and service provider.

Ka Lamaku, the 18 tiny houses built last June at Old Kona Airport Park in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, will remain open until KukuiOla is ready. Hirota said HOPE Services is contracted to manage operations and help individuals connect to community resources including longer-term housing opportunities. At the time of there construction, the temporary structures were anticipated to remain at the entrance to the park until October, when the county envisioned KukuiOla to be complete.

“We are hoping to coordinate the closure of Ka Lamaku with the opening of Kukuiola,” said Hirota.

Attempts to reach Mayor Mitch Roth for comment multiple times over several days went unanswered as of press-time Friday.

In response to the inquiry of what the county is doing about the recent increase of new, single homeless on the streets of West Hawaii, Hirota said the county continues to work with its community partners in continuing its outreach and street medicine programs to engage, encourage and connect individuals and families to appropriate services, including housing opportunities.

“In mid-2020, the County opened a Family Assessment Center at its Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini. The FAC provides free case management and referrals services to families who are experiencing or at-risk of homelessness. The FAC has a wide range of partners that they work with to help families get and stay connected to services,” she said

For households experiencing homelessness or are at risk of homelessness, there are nine nonprofit service providers who provide services as a Coordinated Entry System access points located around the island. Each organization has trained staff who can assist with explaining the steps necessary to gather required identifying documentation as well as how to enter shelter and develop a housing plan for moving into permanent housing. More information can be found at communityalliancepartners.org/.

The Assessment Center at Ulu Wini provides an opportunity for families with children to connect with a case manager who can provide assistance in navigating the resources available to help with stabilizing the needs of the household. For more information, call 731-3541.

The Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides rental and utility relief for households whose income was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hawaii Community Lending and six local on-island nonprofits are administering the program. More information can be found at sites.google.com/view/hawaiicountyerap/home.

The Ku‘ikahi Mediation Center and West Hawaii Mediation Center offer services through their Rapid Response Landlord Tenant Mediation Program. For more information call 935-7844 or email info@hawaiimediatoncenter.org in East Hawaii. In West Hawaii, call 885-5525 or email at info@whmediation.org.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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