Hawaii’s first “kauhale” community to provide permanent housing for homeless people showed signs of promise on Wednesday when a hui of builders revealed to supportive city and state officials the first of 36 planned tiny homes in Kalaeloa.
“A year from now we will return to give thanks to the 36 lives that will be made more secure, more healthy and more complete,” said Nani Medeiros, executive director of HomeAid Hawaii, which is organizing the Kalaeloa kauhale and raising funds.
Harry Saunders — president of the board of directors of HomeAid Hawaii and president of Castle & Cooke Homes Hawaii — invited everyone to return a year from now to help serve a Thanksgiving meal to the residents who will have found a permanent home on state land on the former Barbers Point Naval Air Station.
“Come join on the line with us to observe Thanksgiving,” Saunders said.
Wednesday’s reveal of the first 96-square-foot tiny home represented a bright spot in what has been a rough year for Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s vision of kauhale communities across Oahu and on every island to provide permanent housing — especially when Hawaii’s homeless population is expected to spike after federal funds and a statewide prohibition on evictions are simultaneously scheduled to expire at the end of the year.
In March, two House committees killed a $20 million bill that would have funded a one-year kauhale pilot program. The committees instead voted to study the concept.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, slowing progress in Kalaeloa.
But Green, HomeAid Hawaii and the so-called builder captains pushed ahead.
The idea is to transfer unused state land to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority to accommodate tiny homes of about 100 square feet each. The cost for materials and labor for each tiny house is estimated at $20,000.
“We did not give up on this project despite a trying year,” said Medeiros, who runs the local branch of HomeAid Hawaii, which brings together builders, trades workers, lenders, architects and suppliers to provide homes for the homeless.
Despite the pandemic- related slowdown, Jake Johnson, partner of Hale Partners, continued to work on what eventually will be 22 of the 36 tiny homes in his Waimanalo shop that were funded through donations to HomeAid Hawaii. Castle & Cooke provided funding for four of the homes.
“COVID didn’t slow me down,” Johnson said.
U.S. Vets located next door will vet prospective occupants and run the kauhale.
The Hawaii Public Housing Authority is leasing the land for the project for $1 a year, Medeiros said. Future residents currently are forecast to pay $250 to $350 in monthly rent, she said.
Each tiny home would have solar-powered air conditioning and electricity.
A nearly 2,000-square-foot, former Navy warehouse is scheduled to be converted to provide a communal kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, medical clinic and communal areas. But the roof and beams first have to be replaced after a fire.
An adjacent cabana also is planned.
HomeAid Hawaii and three of the Kalaeloa builder captains are simultaneously working with Twinkle Borge to create tiny homes for the more than 200 homeless occupants who live in an encampment that she organizes next to the Waianae Small Boat Harbor. Donations allowed Borge’s group to purchase agricultural land nearly directly mauka of the boat harbor, about 2 miles up, said Alan Ong, who is volunteering as chief troubleshooter and dealing with issues such as permits.
The Waianae kauhale might be slightly different.
A communal area is likely to be built out of abandoned shipping containers currently on-site and the tiny homes might be constructed side by side and connected with a communal lanai, to accommodate families, Ong said.
More fundraising for the Waianae project is expected in 2021, followed by initial site work, Ong said.
When it opens, everyone currently living next to the boat harbor will be welcomed at the Waianae kauhale, Ong said.
“The entire community at the boat harbor right now will be coming to the site,” he said.
Given the state’s gloomy COVID-19-related economic situation, Green acknowledged that potential state funding for future kauhale will compete with other needs. But he still plans to continue to push the idea in the next legislative session.
“We will ask (for funding), of course,” Green said.
State Sen. Kurt Fevella (R, Ewa Beach- Iroquois Point) plans to vouch for the concept, especially after returning to the Kalaeloa site on Wednesday to see the first tiny house.
He called the idea “a no-brainer.”
Fevella hopes the first kauhale will convince legislators of its potential to ease homelessness cost efficiently versus the millions spent on homeless sweeps.
He called the Kalaeloa kauhale “beautiful, beautiful. I love it. It’s awesome. This is long overdue. I 100% support it. This is something that can be shared going forward. This is a starting point and an example of what we can build.”
Perhaps more importantly, he said, the tiny homes will provide dignity to Hawaii’s homeless and provide “someplace safe to stay and sleep.”
Councilwoman Kym Pine used to work with homeless veterans next door at U.S. Vets and said she has “seen lives transformed … I have seen miracles happen.”
“When you give a homeless person a home,” Pine said, “you give them hope for the first time in their life.”