Editorial: Containing the coronavirus; DHHL’s rental apartments; Hard lesson at Ke Kilohana
Every Saturday, we’ll present these short-take editorials to reflect on some of the week’s news.
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Containing the coronavirus
Fears of the coronavirus are spreading fast worldwide, as the virus itself continues to spread throughout China, and global efforts accelerate to contain the illness. These include China’s extraordinary measure of locking down 50 million of its people in Wuhan, where the outbreak began last month, and nearby cities.
On Friday, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines became the latest airlines to suspend all flights to China due to coronavirus concerns; and the U.S. declared a public health emergency, ordering as much as a 14-day quarantine of citizens returning from Wuhan province. The World Health Organization on Thursday declared the coronavirus outbreak a public-health emergency of international concern.
Amid all this, it’s vital to remember that Hawaii so far has no coronavirus case, and that in the whole U.S., there’s only one confirmed case of human-to- human infection: in Chicago, between a married couple after the wife returned from Wuhan.
China’s Wuhan quarantine, and the suspension of flights to and from China, provide measures of precaution against coronavirus spread. But take note: While all flights to the U.S. from China will be restricted to just seven airports starting Sunday, Hawaii folks should stay vigilant, since Honolulu’s Daniel K. Inouye International Airport is among those; enhanced screening is in place, including use of non-contact thermometers.
At least 259 people have died from the coronavirus in China, which also reported about 11,790 confirmed cases there. Thankfully so far, there have been no deaths outside China, though there are at least 130 cases in 22 other countries.
Vigilance remains imperative. And heed the urging of health officials to get flu shots: While not effective against the coronavirus, tamping down flu cases is important, since the early symptoms of both are similar. And unfortunately, a new wave of the flu is picking up in the U.S., already keeping mainland clinics busy.
Expect things to get worse before they get better. But with the global quarantines, immunization/hygiene precautions against illness plus some luck, the coronavirus will be contained — and subside.
DHHL’s rental apartments
The state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands reached a milestone this week in its Sisyphian effort to address the backlog of thousands of Native Hawaiian beneficiaries waiting for homesteads.
On Tuesday, DHHL announced the $7.8 million purchase of two vacant apartment buildings in Moiliili that it plans to renovate and offer for affordable rentals by year’s end. It’s an important and encouraging first for the department, which generally provides homesteaders with houses to buy or land on which to build them. A recent change in administrative rules allows DHHL to broaden its portfolio.
An affordable rental could be a simpler option for some beneficiaries, who otherwise have to navigate the complex process, and sometimes insurmountable cost, of buying a turnkey home or developing a vacant lot.
The new project is a drop in the bucket — 31 units, with more than 28,000 people on the waiting list. But it’s hoped that many more homes will bloom.
The two apartment buildings, on Isenberg and Coolidge streets, respectively, are adjacent, with a grassy area separating them. DHHL intends to build a high-rise rental apartment complex on that property. It would pair nicely with another DHHL project down the street on Isenberg: the old Stadium Bowl-O-Drome site, on which the agency plans to build another rental apartment tower.
An increase in quality affordable housing is always welcome on crowded Oahu. And especially so for DHHL’s long-suffering Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.
Hard lesson at Ke Kilohana
Well, that didn’t take long. Just eight months after their joyous move-ins, several hundred residents who bought into a touted Kakaako moderate-income condominium are facing a drastic 50% increase in monthly maintenance fees. These residents had won a lottery for the chance at a unit at Ke Kilohana, the first “workforce” housing tower by developer Howard Hughes Corp. Today, that lucky feeling is fading for many. The developer says maintenance, energy and labor costs are much higher than initially estimated.
Of Ke Kilohana’s 425 units, 375 are one- to three-bedroom condos reserved at below-market prices, averaging about $510,776. For amenities such as a movie room, keiki playroom and park with BBQ area, the monthly maintenance fees had seemed reasonable: ranging from $270 to $525, depending on the unit. Now, residents are facing a 50% increase monthly, which one tenant rightly called “ridiculous.”
The owners’ board is working on ways to ease the steepness of increases, such as possibly starting a gardening club to defray costs. Hughes Corp. reportedly was to give the owners’ association $600,000, plus 17 parking stalls and 114 storage lockers to generate revenue.
Hughes Corp.’s Kakaako master plan envisions more workforce housing. A lesson from Ke Kilohana to future project tenants: Caveat emptor — let the buyer beware.