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Low-income apartments approved for Kealakehe

A 111-unit subsidized rental apartment project is slated to be constructed on 5.4 acres near the intersection of Kealakaa and Uluaoa streets in Kealakehe, following unanimous approval last week by the County Council.

The units, ranging from one- to four-bedroom configurations, will be built in four-story apartment blocks, with two parking spaces per unit and a central gathering area and pavilion.

The apartments will be offered to families who make 60% or less of the area median income. That means a single person could make no more than $36,000 annually; a family of four, $51,326 and a family of eight, $67,800, according to 2021 thresholds defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The council approved on Wednesday Resolution 179, rezoning the property from agriculture to multifamily residential and exempting the project from more than $200,000 in permitting fees in order to help keep the rents affordable.

The project, dubbed Honuaula Living Community, won accolades from housing advocates and several tenants of nearby apartments who testified to the council.

Testifier Mills Sigrah said he lived in a one-bedroom apartment on the same street, and now that he took in some displaced family members, there were 10 people in his apartment.

“I have seen the need and my apartment is overcrowded with 10 people,” Sigrah said, acknowledging that he was probably breaking the rules, but he couldn’t put family members out on the street.

Helymna Alee said there were eight people in her household, adding the need for affordable housing is great, especially in West Hawaii.

“Please help supply more affordable housing in Kona for people like me,” she said.

A smattering of neighbors to the proposed project, however, called the project a “horrible development,” citing problems with traffic, loss of agricultural land and devaluation of their own properties as reasons to put the project somewhere else.

“This will destroy our peaceful lifestyle, and cause a drastic devaluation in our properties,” said Herb Schneider in written tstimony. “I propose that this low income housing development be moved to Ane Keohokalole where the latest low income housing has already been developed near Kealakehe High School, or on Hina Lani Street, above Home Depot, where there is also a low income housing development.”

At council members’ insistence, the county housing office went back to the developer to help address traffic issues at several nerby intersections. Public Works Director Ikaika Rodenhurst said intersections that aren’t near the project are already below the county’s required level of service, and the project won’t likely affect them.

Still, said Carlo Mireles, chief operating officer of Honuaula LLC, which is developing the project, the developer will commit to helping address some of the traffic issues.

“Me living in the area knowing the particular congestion in the area,” said Mireles, “we look forward to being part of the solution.”

Puna Councilman Matt Kanealii-Kleinfelder pointed to a number of unknowns.

“We’re going to approve this project with cost unknown for both the county and the developer,” Kanealii-Kleinfelder said. “It’s awesome that they’re going to help with this … that they’re willing to help with that. … I support the development — we need the housing — but this is worrisome that we don’t know what the costs are.”

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz pushed for approval even with the unknowns.

“I was incredibly moved by the testimony,” Kierkiewicz said. “If we are really serious about tackling this affordable housing crisis as we say we are, I think by approving this measure (we show that).”
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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