A nonprofit developer has completed a $33 million first phase of preservation work on an old Kunia pineapple plantation village to provide affordable housing for retirees and low-income farmworkers.
An affiliate of the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center held a blessing Thursday in the carport of house No. 716 in the Kunia Village community, described as a plantation village without the plantation.
The four-bedroom house is one of 37 new homes at Kunia Village, where monthly rent is as low as $200 and averages $962.
Also part of the first phase was restoring 45 homes mostly dating to the 1930s and 1940s. The average cost per home was around $400,000 and included putting in new water, sewer and electrical infrastructure.
|KUNIA AFFORDABLE HOUSING
>> Phase 1: 37 new homes, 45 restored homes
>> Phase 2: 51 restored homes
>> Phase 3: 67 new homes
Another 51 occupied homes will be restored in a second phase. A third phase aims to add 67 homes to what was once worker housing for Del Monte pineapple workers.
Under the preservation plan, Kunia Village homes are reserved for Del Monte retirees who were living in the community when the company shut down Hawaii operations, and farmworker households earning no more than 60 percent of Oahu’s median income.
Connie Eligio, 82, who has lived in Kunia Village since 1952 and is among roughly 40 Del Monte retirees still living there, said she and her husband, Vicente, 94, like their remodeled three-bedroom house, which costs $980 a month.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
Seyla Prum moved to Kunia Village about nine months ago with her four children and husband, Sok Khleang, a farmworker at Alluvion Inc. in Haleiwa, after moving out of Khleang’s parents’ house in Waialua. They pay $800 a month for a renovated four-bedroom house.
“It’s nice,” Prum said. “It’s quiet. We like it. It’s our own place.”
Preserving Kunia Village, also known as Kunia Camp, was an eight-year endeavor.
“It’s been a long time but it’s finally come through,” said Dave Robichaux, president of Kunia Village Title Holding Co., a HARC subsidiary. “Like most good ideas, this started out looking easy … but they rarely are. It’s been an adventure.”
HARC, once an association for sugar cane plantations, got involved with Kunia Village in 2009 when it accepted the donation of 119 acres of land from James Campbell Co.
The property — containing 121 homes, farmland, a church, a post office, a community center, a neighborhood store, warehouses, offices and a wastewater treatment plant — was part of the California Packing Co. pineapple plantation that later became Del Monte.
Kunia Camp was established in 1910, and the first homes were built in 1916.
But when Del Monte quit growing pineapple there in 2007 and laid off 551 workers, the company was required to remove village buildings before surrendering its land lease to Campbell.
The city helped broker a deal to avoid evictions and the loss of a historic community.
“We were within 30 days of losing this,” recalled Michael Carroll, lending and housing director for California-based nonprofit Rural Community Assistance Corp., which helped HARC preserve Kunia Village, which was added to state and national registers of historic places in 2014.
Though saved from bulldozers, the homes needed a lot of work to keep them inhabitable.
The cost of the project at one point was estimated at around $16 million but soared in part because the homes in really bad shape couldn’t be torn down — even if that made more economic sense — because they were historic properties.
To finance the work, HARC obtained tax credits and bonds from the state agency Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., tax credits from the U.S. Interior Department, a loan and rent subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and loans from private lenders.
Gov. David Ige, who attended the blessing, said providing affordable housing to farmers needs to happen if the state is to increase local food production.
“We don’t have enough affordable housing even if we had the farms,” he said.
Ige also praised the project team for preserving a part of Hawaii history to which many residents, including himself, are connected. Ige recalled that he spent five summers working in Del Monte’s cannery and that his grandparents on both sides of his family grew up on Oahu plantations.
“It truly is the last of its kind,” he said of Kunia Village.
The new homes at Kunia Village closely resemble older ones from the outside, and they are simple on the inside. Many yards have yet to have grass grow in, much less hedges, gardens and fruit trees that still exist in the village’s older section.
Gordon Wilson, 70, a retired Del Monte juice plant mechanic who lives in one of the original homes, said he misses the feeling of the community when it was part of a working plantation.
“It’s not like before” when he knew the family histories of neighbors and got together for parties and roasting pigs, he said. “We just miss all that plantation stuff.”
One unfortunate result of the project was that some longtime Kunia Village residents had to move out because they were not Del Monte retirees, were not farmworkers or did not meet the income limit.
To qualify, farmworker households may not earn more than 60 percent of the median for Honolulu, which equates to $43,980 for a single person, $50,220 for a couple or $62,760 for a family of four.
Rents are limited to 30 percent of a household’s income and range from $200 to $1,725 a month.
Currently, only 10 of the 82 new or restored homes are still available. EAH Housing is accepting applications for the available homes through eahhousing.org or 439-6375.