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‘Kauhale’ housing for homeless suffers setback

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2019
                                Lt. Gov. Josh Green explains homeless projects he has planned. Green’s dream of a statewide system of “kauhale” tiny homes to provide permanent housing for Hawaii’s homeless suffered a setback Tuesday.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / 2019

    Lt. Gov. Josh Green explains homeless projects he has planned. Green’s dream of a statewide system of “kauhale” tiny homes to provide permanent housing for Hawaii’s homeless suffered a setback Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s dream of a statewide system of “kauhale” tiny homes to provide permanent housing for Hawaii’s homeless suffered a setback Tuesday when two House committees voted to study the concept rather than move out a bill that would have provided $20 million for a one-year pilot program.

Initial construction is already underway in Kalaeloa, and state Rep. Joy San Buena­ventura, chairwoman of the House Committee on Human Services and Homelessness, said the Kalaeloa project should proceed because it is expected to be operated by the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.

For the other potential six to eight kauhale, or villages, that Green wants around Oahu and the neighbor islands, San Buenaventura wanted to know who will be responsible for issues including maintenance and management.

Rather than move out House Bill 2112, the joint House committees voted instead to call for a study that would include the offices of the state Attorney General, Honolulu’s Office of Housing, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., the state’s homeless coordinator and Green.

“I understand the lieutenant governor’s heart is really into it,” San Buenaventura said.

But she said HB 2112 “is basically making him the homeless czar for these kauhale villages. That’s why I want the Attorney General to weigh in. If in fact he has the authority, then we can move forward.”

Following the hearing by the joint House committees, Green later testified on the Senate’s version of the bill — SB 2442 — before the joint Senate Committee on Housing and the Senate Committee on Government Housing. The committees moved out the bill with amendments.

Green was not discouraged by the delay in the House committees.

He told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that it is “perfectly prudent for the House to study what we’re doing. I’m open to any changes of course that the Legislature feels is important. I see it as a good day. We’re in the early phases” of the Legislature. “By the end of the session, it will empower us to build several kauhale.”

Green testified before the Senate committees that kauhale could rapidly house 1,000 of Hawaii’s most chronically homeless “at infinitesimal, small cost.”

Inspired by a similar project in Austin, Texas, Green hopes to transfer unused state land to the Hawaii Housing Authority to build kauhale communities on the neighbor islands and on locations on Oahu including Kalaeloa, Waianae, Waimanalo, Nimitz Highway and at the Hawaii State Hospital for discharged patients who would otherwise be homeless.

As first reported by the Star-Advertiser in November, Green envisions communities comprised of tiny homes costing no more than $25,000 each to provide permanent housing and social service support for Hawaii’s most chronically homeless.

He’s been relying on a commitment from the nonprofit building group Home Aid Hawaii to provide much of the labor and materials and to raise additional funds.

Each kauhale would include communal bathrooms and kitchens. Residents would likely pay monthly rent of $200 to $250.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a photo of a homeless project in Waianae, not the “kauhale” project in Kalaeloa.

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