$150 rent in Kahala a 'gift' for Hawaiians
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By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Andrew Gomes
The first Hawaiian family may move into one of Genshiro Kawamoto's million-dollar homes on Kahala Avenue as early as January and pay only $150 to $200 a month in rent, the Japanese billionaire said.
Kawamoto yesterday announced that he's moving ahead with a plan he floated last month to provide affordable housing in O'ahu's priciest neighborhood.
The 74-year-old eccentric real estate tycoon, who has baffled observers with past Hawai'i investments and charitable visions, said he aims to have nine homes occupied by April, preferably by needy Hawaiians.
Kawamoto identified four homes he said he expects to have ready for tenants by January or February in the project he calls "Kahala Ave. Mission."
Two immediate neighbors of the identified homes yesterday said they welcome deserving families moving into Kawamoto's long-empty houses, and hope the change will result in better maintenance of the properties.
"We haven't had neighbors in a long time," said Natasha Blanchette, who lives next door to one of the homes Kawamoto plans to rent. Blanchette pointed out the falling palm fronds and said she'd be pleased if a family moved in, low-income or otherwise. "We'd love to see a family there."
Devra Wathen, who rents a home next door to another Kawamoto home, agreed. "I would love him to move in some needy families," said Wathen, adding that the plan hasn't upset people living on the tony avenue. "It is not putting us up in arms."
The four homes Kawamoto initially plans to rent include a pair of Tudor-style houses built in the 1930s, a recent colonial-style remodel and an early 1980s home with a spa.
Kawamoto paid $2 million to $3 million for each of the homes except for one that was acquired in an exchange, according to property records. Rent for such properties could run around $5,000 a month or more. Kawamoto said he expects to offer three-year leases at $150 to $200 a month.
"There are many beautiful houses on (the) mauka side of the street," Kawamoto said in a written statement. "I would like to give an opportunity as a gift to rent my nine houses to nine Native Hawaiian families who have difficulties finding a place to live."
"It's going to be my extended family," he said through a translator.
HOW TO APPLY
Kanani Moku, a 24-year-old bank teller and single mother of two, said she could use the opportunity Kawamoto's offering. "I'm kind of between housing," she said. "I'm going through a really tough time in my life."
People interested in renting Kawamoto's Kahala homes, or wishing to express other thoughts, can write him at a post office box he set up for that purpose. The address is P.O. Box 15547, Honolulu, HI 96830.
Some observers have noted that excluding all but Hawaiians would almost certainly violate federal and state housing discrimination laws.
Kawamoto said he's selected his first tenant family, but declined to identify them except to say they are a hard-working Hawaiian family of six with not enough living space. He said he expects to identify the family in January.
Kawamoto declined to discuss his renter-selection process, but said ideally he'd like to rent the homes to Hawaiians with big families who need decent housing and are willing to share the property with friends.
"Not a family who is going to keep it to themselves," he said in the interview.
In the prepared statement, he said he envisions large gatherings with dancing and singing to give the street a Polynesian flair.
"Viva Hawai'i, viva Hawaiian, viva Kahala Avenue!" Kawamoto said in the statement. "I will be honored to execute my vision, Kahala Ave. Mission. ... I humbly ask you all for your support."
Kawamoto has been a controversial figure in Hawai'i real estate, having bought nearly 200 O'ahu homes with what he called "pocket change" in the late 1980s.
The investor rented his properties, often at below market value, but did little to maintain or improve the homes. In some cases, neighbors complained that homes in disrepair hurt their property values.
Kawamoto claimed that property managers didn't inform him of the conditions of his property. Property managers claimed Kawamoto was well-informed and refused to authorize repairs.
In 2002, Kawamoto announced he would sell all his O'ahu homes, creating public concern over loss of so many rentals. He sold 60 homes quickly, and gradually sold most of the rest, after making repairs or renovations to some.
22 PROPERTIES IN ALL
Since 2002, Kawamoto has bought 22 properties on Kahala Avenue for about $115 million. He previously said he might buy up to 25 homes there for $200 million in all.
Another part of Kawamoto's plan involves converting at least five other homes into public museums displaying his collection of Western and Oriental art.
An Advertiser story on Oct. 10 about Kawamoto's plan resulted in more than 150 phone calls and e-mail comments from readers.
Most of the response encouraged Kawamoto. Others suggested there are better ways to help needy local families. There also was some opposition to the idea, doubt about Kawamoto's seriousness and even a theory that he was trying to depress property values so he can buy more Kahala homes at a discount. Another suspicion expressed was that Kawamoto was trying to upset the neighborhood because some residents had complained that he was not maintaining his properties.
At least one Kahala property owned by Kawamoto is severely unkempt, a mansion at 4758 Kahala Ave. That has a huge heap of dead palm leaves and dozens of rubbish bags mostly full of yard trimmings piled on part of what used to be a front-yard tennis court. Weeds have overrun the large yard, which also features a dead tree, dry waterfall and broken fence.
Kawamoto previously noted that part of his plan would involve renters maintaining their property. Yesterday he added that he intends to prepare his homes for rent by removing pools and some walls that will make the properties less expensive to maintain and more open.
"People in Kahala like to build fences and walls," he said. "(The 22) lots that I own on both sides of Kahala Avenue will be prepared so that you can enjoy good old Hawai'i.
"I am also looking forward to seeing hundreds of Hawaiian people enjoy swimming with great pride on weekends and holidays, in the ocean across (from) their houses."
Reach Andrew Gomes at email@example.com.