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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Residents of Kane'ohe housing won't allow land sale without fight

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Despite city reassurance, Külana Nani residents fear the worst from the sale of land under their home. From left: Pam Mercado and granddaughter Avah Navares; Lorraine Soriano; and Dorothea Pale.

RICHARD AMBO | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Residents and supporters of the Kulana Nani apartments plan to gather at 5 p.m. tomorrow at 46-229 Kahuhipa St. and 10 a.m. Friday at Honolulu Hale to protest a plan to sell the land under the rental complex.

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KANE'OHE — The possible sale of the land beneath a public rental complex has residents ready to march to preserve the affordability of their homes, even though city officials say they have nothing to worry about.

Residents of the city-owned Kulana Nani apartments on Kahuhipa Street said a flier listing the 4.26-acre Kamehameha Schools parcel for sale for $6.8 million confirmed a rumor they have heard since summer.

The Kamehameha Schools said only the land is for sale and that its lease to the city would remain unchanged. The city would continue to own and operate the complex as affordable housing unless a suitable buyer emerges.

Nonetheless, worried residents say they'll protest tomorrow and Friday. If the land is sold, they fear, it won't be long before the units are upgraded and sold or rented out for a higher price, said Dorothea Pale, president of the Kulana Residents Association.

"I'm afraid that anybody can buy it and they can say, 'Here's the 45-day notice, leave,' " Pale said. "People here are afraid because if it happens they're going to be on the streets."

The recent announcement of the sale of about 1,000 private units of low- to moderate-income rentals — at Kukui Gardens in Liliha and at Kailua Palms, Coral Apartments, Kailua Arms and Countryside Apartments in Kailua — underscores the city's and state's uphill struggle to maintain affordable housing in Hawai'i.

As units disappear, low-income residents feel the squeeze as competition for their units increases. City Council members Barbara Marshall and Todd Apo said if the city decides to sell public housing, it would be with a guarantee that rents remain affordable.

Marshall said the city's lease runs until 2048, and it pays $45,000 a year for it.

"This council is not going to approve selling any affordable housing without protection that it's going to remain in affordable housing," she said.

Apo said the city should be willing to contribute to preserving the affordable units, just as it did to protect Waimea Valley.

Laura E. Thielen, with the Affordable Housing & Homeless Alliance, said the state has lost other affordable units because their status wasn't protected, such as McCully Circle, a HUD project built 25 years ago for low-income families.

"The same thing can happen to city properties if the city decides to sell," Thielen said, adding that the alliance wants to guard against that. "We have to preserve it as affordable in perpetuity or else we're going to be in a bigger mess in a few more years."

Kulana Nani has 160 two-, three- and four-bedroom units, 20 of which are vacant. As many as eight people live in a unit. Pale estimates that about 800 people live in the complex.

Kulana Nani and 12 other city-owned affordable housing complexes were recommended for sale last year as a means to improve city property management.

When the recommendations to sell the 13 projects were released Dec. 3, Mayor Mufi Hannemann said he would agree if the properties were kept affordable and didn't evict tenants. City spokesman Bill Brennan said the mayor is committed to that.

"No decisions have yet been made to put any of those properties up for sale," Brennan said, adding that a consultant has been hired to investigate the potential of such a move.

The city's definition of "affordable" also is an issue, Pale said. Under city guidelines, a family of four earning up to $74,000 a year may qualify for affordable housing.

"The people here make less than $30,000," she said. "The elderly on fixed income make $20,000."

EAH Inc., a nonprofit managing agent, has expressed interest in purchasing the land and has approached the city to buy the buildings at the same time, Apo said. The organization's mission is to develop and preserve affordable housing but it would need city or state financial backing, Apo said.

"In my view, depending on the overall package, it's worth the city and maybe the state putting in some money in order to make sure that gets maintained," he said.

Kevin Karney, vice president of EAH, said his organization was very concerned about Kulana Nani at some point being converted to market-priced housing if Kamehameha Schools sold the property. EAH wants to buy the property with the intent of keeping it affordable, Karney said.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.