A new community in Kakaako has come to life where neighbors may be just as likely to borrow a tube of acrylic paint or an ukulele string as a cup of sugar or a stick of butter.
It’s a unique place to live filled with artists.
In the eight-story building with 84 apartments, Lauren Hana Chai and her fiance, Nathaniel Evans, have plenty of room to paint on opposite sides of the loft-style living area of their one-bedroom dwelling with 9-foot ceilings.
The midrise also is where pianist Kaori Kawabuchi might have neighbors, who include a member of the band Typical Hawaiians or a local Grammy-nominated artist, over for an informal kanikapila musical session with her 7-year-old son, Orion, who jams on the ukulele and is nicknamed Sky.
>> Photo Gallery: Tour the new Ola ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts
“The vibe in this place is awesome,” Kawabuchi said. “It’s kind of like we get inspired by each other.”
The building, Ola ka ‘Ilima Artspace Lofts, filled up with tenants over a couple months late last year and is preparing for a Feb. 27 grand opening slated to include an evening event open to the public with performances and exhibitions by resident artists.
Ola ka ‘Ilima is the first rental building in Hawaii built for artists, who receive a preference for tenancy.
The property also is reserved for households with low incomes, which isn’t uncommon for many artists and can help them concentrate on their art.
Monthly rents range from $615 to $1,766 for apartments that have one, two or three bedrooms as well as some two-story units with 17-foot ceilings.
To qualify, households cannot earn more than 60% of Honolulu’s median income, and a few units also have a 30% limit.
The 60% limit equates to $50,640 for a single person, $72,300 for a family of four and $104,650 for a family of seven representing the maximum occupancy for a three-bedroom unit.
Ola ka ‘Ilima was developed by two nonprofit firms, Minnesota-based Artspace and an affiliate of California-based EAH Housing, on state land leased for 65 years and with mainly state financing.
The $53 million project, which took nearly a decade to bring to fruition largely because of financing challenges, received financing almost entirely from state, city and federal sources.
Features in the building include workshop areas, a gallery, a community kitchen, space for Native Hawaiian organization PA‘I Arts and Culture Center, and retail space lined up for a spa and cafe operator.
A recreation area on the roof of a two-level parking garage forms a courtyard between two six-story stacks of apartment units and features artificial turf, picnic tables, play equipment and 84 cattle troughs filled with soil and connected to rain catchment barrels for each household to use as gardening beds.
Of course, there’s also art going up in the lobby. And residents needn’t be concerned with nailing their work to apartment walls or dripping paint on the sealed cement floors.
“I’m so happy to be here,” said Chai, who was born and raised in Hawaii and met her fiance at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco.
Having a building designed as live/work units for artists already has led to discussions among tenants for collaborations, shows and even TED Talks-style events.
“We’ve been brainstorming,” Chai said. “We’re just kind of automatically bonded.”
Forms of art practiced by Ola ka ‘Ilima residents include music, dance, photography, textile design, video game design, writing, Hawaiian cultural practices and filmmaking.
Even the resident manager, Rathana So, is part of the mix as a plant-based chef.
Not every tenant is an artist, though. Twelve of the apartments were set aside for use in the city’s Housing First program helping homeless citizens. Also, a similar number of units designed for people with Americans With Disabilities Act needs are rented to tenants who didn’t qualify as artists.
Artspace and EAH are able to give a preference to artists because federal fair-housing law designates artists as a special group that can be provided a priority for tenancy that isn’t a discrimination violation.
To also comply with federal regulations, Ola ka ‘Ilima could not be reserved only for Hawaii residents. Artspace and EAH said most tenants are local residents but that some tenants are from the mainland.
The firms received over 500 applications for Ola ka ‘Ilima. After that a lottery was held to determine an order for applicants to proceed through a qualification process that included income verification, a criminal background check and assessment of their dedication to art.
A committee including artists and representatives of Artspace and EAH didn’t judge the quality of anyone’s art, but interviewed applicants to gauge the degree to which they are engaged in art, which according to guidelines should be more than a hobby but not necessarily producing income.
“We’re judging the commitment and passion that they bring to their art form,” said Julie Alexander, an Artspace asset manager.
Kawabuchi is a full-time pianist who performs at wedding venue 53 by the Sea and several Waikiki hotels, and her son performed at their interview. Still, the single mother needed some fortune as well to snag an Ola ka ‘Ilima apartment because her lottery number was 222.
“We are so happy and lucky,” she said. “(We’re) living the dream.”
To register for the public open house Feb. 27 from 5 to 8 p.m., visit bit.ly/2uRsjd1.