Kukui Gardens’ 40th anniversary was marked yesterday by celebrating the future for one of Hawaii’s largest housing projects, which faced extinction just four years ago and the eviction of its low-income tenants.
"I never thought that we’d win," Carol Anzai, president of the residents association, said in an interview yesterday after giving a tearful speech to residents, dignitaries and elected officials. "There’s so much pride in what Kukui Gardens has become."
Anzai, 62, has lived in Kukui Gardens for 38 of its 40-year existence and pays $1,040 per month for a four-bedroom apartment.
After Kukui Gardens Corp. offered to sell the 857-unit, low-income apartments to upscale developers in 2006, Kukui Gardens was saved the following year through a campaign by tenants, community leaders, the Lingle administration and other elected officials to persuade San Francisco-based Carmel Partners to sell half — or 11 acres of the land and more than 400 apartments — for $72 million to affordable developers EAH Housing and Devine & Gong of San Francisco.
The deal ran into trouble last year when the market for a key component of the deal — state housing tax credits — dried up with the collapse of the nation’s financial markets. But the federal stimulus provided $3.8 million to fill in much of the $5 million gap that was created by the loss.
Today, concrete is giving way to plants and dozens of palm trees that will line Vineyard Boulevard.
"It’ll be lush, it’ll be green" and offer a "less institutional look," Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said.
The complex’s "hard-edged, concrete character" will be replaced by "a true Kukui Gardens," Aiona said. "This is a major transformation."
As an interpreter translated for Kukui Gardens’ Chinese-speaking residents, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye remembered developer Clarence T.C. Ching’s dream to create affordable housing for Hawaii’s Chinese immigrants — "99 percent" of whom started their lives in the islands with "humble beginnings," Inouye said.
State Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Palama-Chinatown-Downtown) told the gathering that the end of Kukui Gardens would have meant that many of the project’s residents "would have ended up sleeping on the street."
The bulk of EAH Housing’s $18 million will be spent on new grounds and building exteriors.
About 1,000 residents in the EAH Housing side of the project also will receive new floors, appliances, cabinets, countertops, paint and low-flow shower heads and low-flush toilets for their apartments, said Marian Gushiken, director of Hawaii real estate development for EAH Housing.
While much of yesterday’s celebration focused on the history and future of Kukui Gardens, the overarching sentiment was to celebrate the complex’s continuing existence.
"There’s so much relief that there’s no threat of eviction," said Lucien Wong, a member of EAH Housing’s board of directors.