Hawaiian homestead project in Waianae may become prototype
By Andrew Gomes
Advertiser Staff Writer
When you consider that the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has some 20,000 Native Hawaiians waiting for homesteads, building 18 homes in Wai'anae Valley doesn't seem like it would make a major impact.
But the project called Kaupuni — the smallest ever for DHHL — may end up having one of the biggest and most profound effects on the agency and its mission, and perhaps influence development of nonhomestead communities.
"This is going to take us to another level," said Kaulana Park, DHHL director. "This can be a huge thing for the homestead community and for Hawai'i."
The subdivision is designed in part to reconnect Hawaiians with their land by dedicating part of the property to a communal farm with an aquaponics system, a greenhouse, fertile soil for raising crops such as taro, and a building with a commercial kitchen, office space and storage.
An above-ground oven, or umu, an outdoor gathering area and a hula courtyard are also part of the plan.
In a way, Kaupuni, which is named after a nearby stream flowing into Pōka'ī Bay, aims to create a microcosm of an ahupua'a, or segment of land from the mountains to the sea containing enough resources for sustaining a community.
In addition to the project's cultural elements, Kaupuni is designed with features to reduce energy costs to zero, including photovoltaic panels, solar water heaters, skylights, and energy-efficient appliances and lighting.
DHHL spokesman Lloyd Yonenaka said the agency, which typically sells homes at cost with $1-a-year land leases, tried to go beyond producing housing that is affordable for its constituents to purchase.
"We're an affordable-housing developer, and then we realized we need to make them affordable to live in," he said.
SERVE AS BLUEPRINT
The food and energy sustainability aspects of Kaupuni will help do that.
Kaupuni, which is also described as Ke Kaiāulu Ho'owaiwai, or The Prospering Community, will be a model that DHHL hopes it can replicate on a larger scale as the agency drives to deliver 1,000 homes a year after decades of stunted development.
"This is going to be the blueprint for other projects," Yonenaka said. "We're going to learn so much from this project."
Park said the model may be applied to plans for 400 to 600 DHHL homes in Mākaha Valley, and could spur private developers to follow suit.
"It can happen anywhere," Park said. "It's really more than sustainability. It's more than energy efficiency. It's really about prosperity."
Construction is expected to start as early as next month on Kaupuni and be completed by the end of the year.
To be successful, Kaupuni will require residents to work together. Collective decisions will involve what crops to grow and how to pursue commercial sales of products from the farm.
MAKING A COMMUNITY
For some tenants, it will also require learning about aspects of old Hawaiian communities no longer practiced by younger generations living in an urban, modern environment.
Pauline Lukela, who has applied to be one of Kaupuni's residents, doesn't have experience in the lo'i fields but knows how hard her father works growing kalo, or taro, on Maui with her three brothers. "He's out in the kalo from the sunrise to the sunset," said Lukela, who rents a home in Mililani with her husband and adopted granddaughter.
Lukela said that because her husband works, tending the land would primarily be her job. "It's really hard, but I'm excited," she said.
Matthew Kaopio Jr., a prospective Kaupuni lessee who applied with his brother, is excited by the idea of joining a new extended family with shared responsibility for the community's health.
"It takes neighborhoods to look after each other for success and good quality for living," he said.
Kaopio said the energy savings and the food sustainability aspects of the project make Kaupuni a good opportunity, especially because other DHHL homestead deals offered in the past were too expensive.
Prices for the three and four-bedroom homes are estimated to range from $260,000 to $320,000.
Some federal stimulus money is being used to reduce home prices, but the federal financing also requires that buyers earn no more than 80 percent of Honolulu's median household income, which equates to $76,100 for a family of four.
The median income requirement also was a requirement for Kaupuni because DHHL received the 3.4-acre parcel of land as a gift from the Consuelo Foundation.