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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, May 18, 2001

Kukui Gardens residents face steep rent increases

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Residents of the Kukui Gardens housing project face rent increases of up to 37 percent, and some tenants say they will be forced to move.

Rent for a one-bedroom unit at the 19-acre, HUD-sponsored project will increase from $414 to $567, said project facilities manager Allen Lau. Four-bedroom rents will jump from $748 a month to $1,025.

Kukui Gardens management says rent increases are necessary to finance improvements to the building's electrical wiring and improve the project's financial reserves. The complex has suffered numerous power outages, with some areas down for three or four days, because the system cannot carry the load, Lau said yesterday.

Still, rents in the 857 apartments will remain below those outside the complex bounded by Liliha, Beretania and A'ala streets and Vineyard Boulevard, he said.

But Celine Takahashi, project operations manager, said some residents have told her they cannot afford the increase and will have to move, either into group housing or into the homes of family members.

Takahashi, Lau and Barbara Cox of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development met with tenants at the community center last night and offered referrals to agencies to help those who have trouble paying the new rates, or decide they have to move.

They also urged those pinched by the rent increases to consider "downsizing" from larger units to smaller ones, if necessary, rather than leave the complex.

Carol Anzai, president of the Kukui Gardens Guild, said that alternative is difficult even for families that have gotten smaller when children have moved away or a spouse has died.

"I have a neighbor, a Japanese lady, who is 70 years old and has lived in her three-bedroom unit for years," said Anzai.

"Her mother just died, and her husband died 10 years ago, and she could go into a one-bedroom elsewhere in the project, but people her age find it difficult to move into unfamiliar places," Anzai said.

She cited another case in which a mentally ill woman occupies a unit, and would be even more disoriented if she had to move.

Rents will not be the only increase; utilities, now included in the rent, will be each tenant's responsibility in the future.

Anzai, who has volunteered to assist senior citizens in the project for the past 20 years, suggested that rents be raised gradually instead of all at once.

But Lau said completing the project in 18 months, even with interest-only construction financing at the outset, requires a constant income stream that has to be supported by the rents.

"We are not subsidized by taxpayers," Lau said. "While our goal is to provide affordable housing, the project has to pay its own way."

No family making more than $43,000 may move into the project, but residents include some who have acquired substantial assets and drive luxury cars or own houses elsewhere that they rent out, the managers said. Many other tenants have so little income that they qualify for public assistance.