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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Apartment sale advances

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

The owners of the Kukui Gardens apartment complex near Chinatown yesterday decided to continue negotiations with just one potential purchaser.

Meanwhile, tenants of the 857-unit affordable-housing complex met with leaders of the state Legislature to rally support behind a move to have the project condemned or placed in a special district in an effort to ensure its continued affordability.

Under a loan agreement with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, Kukui Gardens must keep its rents low through 2011.

Most tenants are immigrants, elderly and on fixed incomes. Many are worried the sale will lead either to eventual redevelopment of the area or to price increases that will make it too expensive for them to continue living there. They now pay $444 to $818 a month.

In a brief statement, the board of the Kukui Gardens Corp. said it has decided to work with one of three finalists that had submitted proposals.

"This group will move forward with its physical and financial audit to decide whether it wants to purchase the property," the statement said.

The 15-member board is made up of officials from the Clarence T.C. Ching Foundation, St. Louis School, Chaminade University of Honolulu and the St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii.

More than 50 residents attempted to attend the board meeting held yesterday morning in a downtown high-rise but were denied access by security guards.

Amy Hennessey, a spokeswoman for the Ching foundation and the Kukui Gardens Corp., said a confidentiality clause prevents board members from revealing the name of the prospective buyer as well as other finalists and any proposed deal details.

State Rep. Michael Kahikina, D-44th (Nanakuli, Honokai Hale), who authored the legislation seeking to condemn the complex, called on the landowner to identify the potential buyer.

"I think they should be transparent," Kahikina said. "They used public money."

Sharz Divsalar, an organizer with Faith Action for Community Equity, which is helping residents organize opposition to the sale, said she believes the owners are speeding up the process in order to short-circuit the condemnation process.

"They continue to cut us out of the process," Divsalar said.

House Speaker Calvin Say, D-20th (St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Wilhelmina Rise), agreed. "We're doing what we can, but they're trying to beat us to the punch."

The current owners are holding a meeting for tenants at 6:30 tonight in Kauluwela Elementary School's cafeteria.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.