Editorial: Investments in housing welcome
Kamehameha Schools — Hawaii’s largest private landowner — is prepping to expand the housing development slice of its commercial real estate portfolio.
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Kamehameha Schools — Hawaii’s largest private landowner — is prepping to expand the housing development slice of its commercial real estate portfolio. The upshot could be a game-changer for the struggling market in Honolulu’s urban core, as plans are in the works for 8,000 to 10,000 new homes.
Because of where these properties are located, along with the $12 billion trust’s deep commitments in the islands and deep pockets as the eighth-wealthiest charitable foundation by endowment worldwide, its planned projects could set the stage for significant makeover in some long-established landscapes.
The biggest envisions 4,000 to 5,000 housing units in Kapalama Kai, where Kamehameha Schools property lines both sides of the Kapalama Canal. An influx of homes on 105 acres there would add height to the now largely low-rise neighborhood dominated by industrial businesses and shopping plazas.
Given the hemmed-in physical constraints tied to new construction in the city, it’s sensible to build vertically. However, for the sake of preserving some views and aesthetic appeal, the city should not allow heights — for possibly a dozen high-rises — to shoot past those of other towers edging the skyline in the nearby downtown area.
Also, while the addition of residents — over the span of decades — would bring more street and foot traffic, Kapalama Kai is slated for a rail station along the city’s 20-mile elevated transit route. If well executed, transit-oriented development (TOD) near
21 proposed stations could help ease congestion.
Before ongoing rail construction started, city leaders began pitching TOD as a ticket for much-needed expansion of Honolulu’s affordable housing inventory. That effort is falling short. In recent years, the city has allowed deals with developers in which all but a small percentage of housing in high-density high-rises in TOD areas is reserved for market-priced sales and condo-hotels.
The discouraging refrain among some developers has been that unless the bulk of construction gets a luxury price tag, construction of affordable housing is, well, unaffordable.
In contrast, it’s encouraging that Kamehameha Schools wants to build affordable workforce housing along Kapalama Canal, which would be near a city rail station next to Honolulu Community College. This vision also integrates as much light industrial space as now exists so that businesses aren’t pushed out.
Kamehameha Schools owns 363,000 acres of land statewide, with a sliver — 15,000 acres — serving as money-making commercial real estate properties, which help fund the trust’s ever-present focus of providing Native Hawaiians with educational opportunities. Such opportunities yield more success stories when tethered to stable, affordable housing.
In addition, the trust’s plans include building affordable rentals in Waipahu —200 rental homes and a grocery store half a block from a planned rail station.
Even a small bump in that inventory is important since statewide, an estimated 22,500 affordable rentals are needed by 2026. Much of that need — more than 15,000 units — is in the area median income (AMI) bracket set at and below 80 percent. Federal guidelines define 100 percent of median income for a two-person Honolulu household at $93,300 in 2018 dollars.
Also on the project list: a new community in Waiawa, student housing in Moiliili, and more condo high-rises in Kakaako.
The prospect of Kamehameha Schools spurring transformation of Kapalama Kai and other neighborhoods into more-lively areas is imaginable, in part, because in recent years the trust has played a key role in pulling off a similar challenge in Kakaako. The formerly bland warehouse-dotted neighborhood is now energized with scores of shops and restaurants — and yes, new housing.