Hawaiian Nonprofit closes down successful affordable housing program

HONOLULU, Hawaii — The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement (CNHA) will close down its affordable housing development program, after successfully building 22 homes for low-to-moderate income families in Kapolei and on Kauai, with the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL).

"We were awarded a contract under the Lingle administration to develop an innovative housing program to serve low income families, but also families that are in the income gap where they don't make enough to qualify for a market priced home, and at the same time, make too much to qualify for typical housing subsidies to make a home purchase possible," said Robin Puanani Danner, CEO of CNHA. "These families are really the middle class on the waiting list at DHHL."

In response to a competitive bid by DHHL over four years ago, CNHA designed an affordable housing product that enabled families to build four-bedroom, two-bath and two-car garage homes for $160,000 on Kauai and $185,000 in Kapolei.  Highly successful, the program provided construction financing, and organized groups of families to bulk purchase materials, contract specialty contractors, and organize family labor to build their homes together.

"The program served middle class families between 50 and 200 percent of the Area Median Income," Danner said.  "It enabled working families to have an alternative to a developer built home, and instead to achieve home ownership through an owner-builder approach."

One of the families that participated in the program had been on the waiting list for 58 years, and was unable to qualify to purchase a DHHL developer home. "It was a joyful and tearful experience to hear this aunty share her story of signing up for her homestead award when she was young, married and the proud mom of a new baby, hopeful and looking forward to moving her young family on to a homestead. Decade after decade, the opportunity never came," said Rosalee Puaoi, CNHA Project Manager. 

"58 years later, this program got her the construction financing she needed, and a way to get an affordable home built in order to take a lot award — to have her and her ohana, including her now 58 year old son in our training classes for the project, was overwhelming."

The nonprofit will close down its affordable housing section by the end of October. "The program was definitely right to do, and one of the best ways to help DHHL reach and work with families caught in the gap," Danner continued.  "The clock ran out, and DHHL let the contract expire, without any discussion, or coordination, just an e-mail telling us to send a closing invoice and to stop any work on the 30 additional homes authorized and in planning."

For Puaoi, as the project manager and a homesteader herself, the swing in collaboration has been stark. "We went from a DHHL that was excited and championing the delivery of diverse housing partnerships to reach families, as Director Nahale-a used to say 'serve them where they are' and 'let's work together to find solutions', to a DHHL that sends an e-mail to close down the program, without even a discussion on how to carry it forward to the next 30 families or even a debrief on the first 22 homes and our analysis of the demographics on the families our program approach worked for."

The nonprofit will notify families that Puaoi was working with that there will not be an extension of time to serve them. The affordable housing section will be closed by the end of October.

"The affordable housing program worked better than we ever expected, hitting the exact target of people on the waitlist," Danner said. "But no matter how well a program is designed or executed, it has to have positive partners that want to achieve a set of goals. Rosalee delivered this program under four different DHHL directors at a state agency in a span of four years (Kane, Park, Nahale-a and Masagatani), from bid, to negotiation, to award, to actual project delivery - pretty amazing when you think about it. We can only hope that DHHL will not go back to just delivering high cost homes or very low income projects — the people on the waitlist really need and deserve the full range of housing options that can be found off homesteads."

Puaoi said, "I admit it’s been a little frustrating. Even so, we remain dedicated to assisting DHHL beneficiaries, no matter the changes that are bound to occur. I'll focus on our other programs to help families."

Source: Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement


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