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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Keep Kukui Gardens as affordable rentals

Given Hawai'i's affordable housing crisis, state legislators should put on a full-court press to save Kukui Gardens.

If the Legislature is unable to preserve the downtown apartment complex, more than 2,500 residents will find themselves scrambling to find similar housing on O'ahu.

And the statistics are grim.

Just last month the state's affordable housing task force estimated that by 2009, O'ahu will require more than 15,000 affordable units to meet the growing need.

Kukui Gardens, privately owned by the Kukui Garden Corp., is a complex built with funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development 36 years ago. In return for the low-cost HUD financing, the corporation promised to provide affordable housing through 2011.

But now the corporation has decided to sell the complex. Given the hot real estate market, that's understandable. A housing auction is under way, with minimum bids starting at $130 million.

Rep. Michael Kahikina, D-44th (Honokai Hale, Nanakuli, Lualualei) wants to use eminent domain to condemn Kukui Gardens, and keep the units affordable.

Sen. Ron Menor, D-17th (Mililani, Mililani Mauka, Waipi'o) has a better plan: a resolution that urges Kukui Gardens to sell to a nonprofit that would retain the complex as affordable housing. At minimum it would buy more time for local nonprofits to come up with a package that will keep the site affordable.

It also would provide more time for the corporation to reconsider the pact it made to the community through HUD years ago.

But if those efforts fail, then the state will be left with few options other than eminent domain. That's a situation only made bearable by the severity of our housing crisis.