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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 2, 2001

Waimanalo complex can house 85 seniors

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

WAIMANALO — The one-bedroom apartments are clean and new and will provide homes to at least 85 low-income, senior citizen Hawaiians. But Darrell Ing was nervous as he watched construction crews work on the first project of its kind for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Waimanalo Kupuna Housing is the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands' newest housing project. However, thousands more are still waiting for homesteads.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

Ing, the project manager, knows that the Waimanalo Kupuna Housing complex fulfills a need for elderly Hawaiians. He also knows that the people who move in after the first of the year still will be eligible for separate, residential homes provided by the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

And that means that after $11.5 million, the Waimanalo complex still won't make a dent in the list of 19,000 people with at least 50 percent Hawaiian blood who are waiting for homesteads.

"It all goes back to the question of whether we're getting people off of the list," Ing said. "The primary purpose of the department, of course, is to put people on the land. And this project doesn't really satisfy that mission."

So department officials will wait to see how Hawaiians react to the kupuna project before deciding whether it will be the first or last of its kind for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

"We have an albatross hanging around our neck and that's called the Hawaiian Home Lands waiting list," said Ray Soon, chairman of the Hawaiian Homes Commission, whose name is also on the list. "But this project provides homes for our kupuna."

The project was a response to a need for low-income, senior citizen housing expressed by people in the Waimanalo Hawaiian Homes Association, which is across the street from the kupuna apartments.

It's aimed at single people who earn no more than 80 percent of O'ahu's median income, or $36,200. A couple could make no more than $41,350. The maximum rent would be $545. The rent could be waived entirely for homeless seniors who qualify.

The complex of 534-square-foot, one-story apartments sits on six acres of land off of Kalaniana'ole Highway, where the Ko'olau Mountains provide a gorgeous backdrop. The apartment project even won the governor's cup in this year's Parade of Homes competition in the category of affordable, multi-family housing.

But only 74 people have applied for the 85 units despite repeated marketing campaigns.

"We're not really sure why," Ing said. Some people probably could not meet the income requirements, he said. Others, like many of the people who have declined homestead lots over the years, are happy where they're living.

Not Bob Keaunui, a full-blooded, 65-year-old Hawaiian who was one of the first to apply.

Hawai'i wasn't a state when Keaunui's mother went on the Home Lands waiting list in 1958. In 1991, she was awarded a four-bedroom homestead in Waimanalo, and Keaunui moved in.

Today, Keaunui shares the house with his children. But his wife, Velma, 64, suffers from emphysema, asthma and diabetes. Keaunui was just diagnosed with diabetes.

"We just cannot keep up the place," Keaunui said.

So he sold the homestead to his brother and is anxious for something smaller. He also likes the idea of living in a place where the minimum age is 62 (although younger spouses and legal dependents are allowed).

Keaunui walked through the complex's model apartment recently and ran his hand over the kitchen counter, eyeing every detail of the place.

"This is going to be a role model. That's for sure," Keaunui said. "What they've done is give your old folks an option."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.