Kapolei’s second affordable housing tower to rise

Honolulu Star Advertiser - August 29, 2019
Andrew Gomes

It’s not done yet, but the tallest building in Kapolei is slated to soon connect with a sister tower providing homes for Hawaii residents with low incomes.

A development partnership held a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for a second tower in the $130 million Kulana Hale project providing 297 apartments with rents as low as $632 a month made possible largely through low-interest and tax-free state financing.

The first tower with 154 units reserved for seniors 55 and older is on pace for completion in April. The second tower with 143 units designed for families will be connected to the first tower by a two-story parking structure and is projected to be done in early 2021.

Both towers are reserved for households earning no more than 60% of the median income in Honolulu. That equates to $50,640 for a single person, $57,840 for a couple and $72,300 for a family of four. Eight apartments will be for tenants earning half as much.

Projected monthly rents tied to current income levels for most units would be $1,265 for studios, $1,355 for one-bedroom units, $1,627 for two-bedroom units and $1,879 for three-bedroom units. Eight units would have rents at half these rates.

Applications won’t likely be available or accepted until early next year.

Project officials and supporters said Kulana Hale will transform Kapolei’s urban core, in part by dramatically altering the skyline of Oahu’s “Second City” and by infusing affordable housing within walking distance of businesses.

“These 143 units are incredible, they’re important and they really will transform this community,” said Robert Spangler, a managing director of the Royal Bank of Canada affiliate RBC Capital Markets that invested in Kulana Hale.

Mohannad Mohanna, president of a development subsidiary of the project’s California-based lead partner Highridge Costa Cos., said Kulana Hale will provide affordable homes for generations of residents because rents will be tied to incomes for 61 years.

Factoring in household sizes and tenant turnover, Mohanna said the project should provide housing for nearly 9,000 people over six decades.

“There are cities that don’t have that kind of population,” he said.

While development team members and government officials at the ceremony including Gov. David Ige praised the project, some also recalled community opposition to the project over issues that have included the size of the project and its location on land not zoned for residential use.

City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine, who represents Kapolei, recalled one person at a recent public meeting expressing their frustration over Kulana’s first tower by yelling. Yet this critic’s view changed, according to Pine, after Pine explained that seniors will be able to live in the tower for $600 a month.

“I want you to imagine there’s people living on the beach right now who will be living in these buildings,” the councilwoman said at Wednesday’s ceremony.

State Sen. Mike Gabbard (D, Kapolei-Makakilo) recounted a similar interaction. He called Kulana Hale a “wonderful piece of the puzzle” for the Second City.

“This is the first midrise tower to grace our skyline,” he said.

The 3-acre site where Kulana Hale is rising is a block from Kapolei Theaters and adjacent to Island Pacific Academy, a private school.

The site had once been planned for a Goodwill Industries of Hawaii Inc. career center. Goodwill, however, shifted its project elsewhere in Kapolei and in 2015 sold the vacant block to affordable-housing developer Franco Mola of Coastal Rim Properties Inc. for $4.7 million.

Mola proposed building four towers with 580 homes on the site, but later scaled back his plan and partnered with Highridge and the local nonprofit Hawaiian Community Development Board.
The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., a state agency that helps private developers produce affordable housing, primarily financed Kulana Hale by providing loans, tax-exempt bonds and state and federal tax credits.

HHFDC’s authority also allowed the project’s developer to deviate from county zoning rules with concurrence from the City Council. The height limit for the site is 150 feet, which is in line with Kulana Hale.

A third phase of the project is planned for single-story retail buildings along two sides of the block.