Hawaii businessman Duane Kurisu and a host of dignitaries broke ground Tuesday on Kurisu’s ambitious vision to use public and private resources to erect permanent homes near Sand Island for 150 homeless families — or 600 adults and children.
Kurisu hopes before Christmas to have the first 30 families moved into 18 two-bedroom and 12 one-bedroom prefabricated units on land originally dedicated for preservation.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Kurisu said before Tuesday’s groundbreaking and blessing. “If this was a for-profit development, it would have never come to fruition. Everybody said this was un-developable.”
Kurisu — founder and chairman of the aio Group, who also serves on the board of directors of Oahu Publications Inc., parent company of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser — declined to say how much it will cost to create what he’s calling Kahauiki Village, based on his plantation upbringing on Hawaii island. He would say only that the cost is “a big amount” — that keeps growing.
Kurisu helped organize the “Aloha for Japan” fundraising effort in Hawaii that raised more than $1 million for victims of the 2011 Japanese earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, which included money for temporary, prefabricated modular homes. Now he wants to reuse an estimated 150 of the homes to create Kahauiki Village. The name comes from the ahupuaa — or district — where Kahauiki Village will be erected near a paintball field that sits between Nimitz Highway and Keehi Lagoon, which is also home to an entrenched homeless encampment.
Kurisu’s nonprofit aio Foundation calls the project unprecedented in the islands.
It will be the latest homeless housing project in city Councilman Joey Manahan’s district, which includes a growing homeless population on the streets of Kalihi and Iwilei and under the H-1 viaduct; the state’s largest homeless shelter; the city’s Hale Mauliola transitional housing project on Sand Island, made out of converted shipping containers; and a four-story building that the city is converting to become the state’s only combination hygiene center, navigation center and transitional housing project.
“We are embracing the problem, embracing the solution,” Manahan said of his Council district following Tuesday’s blessing and ceremonial groundbreaking for Kahauiki Village. “It’s amazing what Duane did. It takes a very special kind of leader to bring this type of collaboration together, especially when it comes to solving homelessness.”
Kurisu wants to do more than provide housing. He wants to create a plantationlike community that will include vegetable gardens, fruit trees and fish farms to encourage food sustainability.
Homeless families with children who want to live in Kahauiki Village first have to go through programs offered by the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities Hawaii or the Institute for Human Services, the last of which will run Kahauiki Village.
Rental prices are planned at $900 per month for two-bedroom units, which will include electricity, gas and water; or $725 per month for one-bedroom units, also with electricity, gas and water.
The units will include kitchens and bathrooms, along with a communal coin-operated laundry area.
There will be no support for addiction or mental illness needs. But former first lady Vicky Cayetano has pledged jobs at her United Laundry for any adult tenants willing to work within walking distance of Kahauiki Village. And a day-care center is planned on-site to give parents the flexibility to work.
The project benefited from a series of emergency proclamations that Gov. David Ige began issuing in late 2015 to better respond to the homeless crisis in Hawaii, which continues to lead the nation with the highest per capita homeless rate.
The state owns the 11.3-acre parcel and transferred the land to the city, which is leasing it to the aio Foundation for 10 years at a cost of $1 a year, with an option to renew the lease for an additional 10 years. The city is also contributing $3.6 million for fire hydrants and sewer and water hookups. Along with natural gas and a photovoltaic system, the idea is to create a power grid just for the village.
Ige called Tuesday “a glorious day.”
He said Kahauiki Village represents “an example of what we can do as a community when we are committed to helping attack one of the most complex and challenging challenges that our community faces.”
Mayor Kirk Caldwell, son of a Hawaii island plantation doctor, said life on a plantation meant “you helped each other in hard times. … This is a dream of, how do we help those who have the hardest time living on this land?”
The mayor said that Kurisu “has rekindled the spirit of the plantation community.”