Lanai draws lottery tenants for first affordable housing project in 30 years

On Saturday, the 5-year-old daughter of Makana Nuesca crossed her middle and index fingers and flapped her arms like wings in a plea for luck.

“I told him we had to hope,” said Nuesca, 24, as she waited impatiently outside the Pulama Lanai rental office where an affordable housing lottery was about to begin.

It’s been nearly 30 years since an affordable housing project was built on Lanai, where housing for the workforce is scarce and families sometimes band together to keep a roof over their heads.

Labor housing was inadequate on Lanai long before tech billionaire Larry Ellison bought 98% of the tiny island, including a third of its homes, for $300 million in 2012. But the problem has intensified by an influx of hotel and construction workers employed by Pulama. Lanai, the management company that oversees Ellison’s monopoly stake in the island.

Members of the Nuesca family during the draw for accommodation in the new Hokuao accommodation in Pulama Lanai on Lanai.
The Nuesca family won an affordable housing lottery for a two-bedroom home in the Hokuao housing project on Lanai. Due to the island’s housing crisis, the family of four recently had to share a two-bedroom, one-bathroom home with five other relatives. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Until recently, Nuesca said she and her family of four lived uncomfortably in a two-bedroom plantation house with five other relatives until they could find a house to rent on their own. So when her family won the opportunity to rent a house at below market price in the housing lottery on Saturday morning, they said the news was a game-changer.

“When else will we have the chance to rent a house?” said Nuesca.

Privately funded for an undisclosed price by Ellison, the creation of 76 affordable housing units in the future Hokuao Housing Project marks a historic investment in housing production for low-income residents.

It’s also an investment in Ellison’s redevelopment plans for a 140-square-mile island plagued by staffing issues. Some workers at sister Four Seasons hotels in Lanai, for example, reside in luxury hotel rooms – a symptom of the housing crisis. Construction workers from other islands regularly travel to a Lanai job site in a private plane owned by Ellison.

The purpose of the development is to help meet the employment needs of the island, said Noemi Barbadillo, director of commercial and residential properties for Pulama Lanai.

“It won’t be the only solution,” Barbadillo said. “But it’s a start. We really need the county, with its parcel, to start moving forward. »

Affordable Housing Pulama Lanai Hokuao.
The 150-unit Hokuao Housing Project on Lanai aims to shore up a labor housing problem that has made it difficult to attract professionals to relocate to the island and fill positions in fields ranging from hospitality and construction to human resources and healthcare. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Ten years ago the county proposed a development plan for more than 400 affordable housing units on the outskirts of Lanai City. The county appeared to abandon the project in 2015 due to the high costs of building sewer and water lines to service the undeveloped property.

But the long-standing plan to create housing for low-income residents has recently gained new momentum.

The Maui County Council has made substantial increases in property taxes on non-owner occupied residential properties this year. By raising tax rates, the council was able to increase the county’s affordable housing fund to $58 million, the largest sum in its history.

But it is the mayor who is responsible for translating this funding into action.

“It’s a developer’s dream,” said Maui County Councilman Gabe Johnson, who lives on Lanai and chairs the county’s Affordable Housing Committee. “All we need now is for the mayor to issue a tender.”

Last summer, Johnson went door-to-door interviewing nearly 400 households in Lanai City to ask about people’s incomes and whether they wanted to rent or own a home. Nearly 70% of the 391 respondents said that someone in their family unit needed affordable housing with an almost even split in preference of the following options: rental, rental with option to buy, rental with call option, then buy.

“On Lanai, Grandma lives with the kids and the kids’ kids,” Johnson said. “So that will allow us to expand a bit. But many of these houses will go to off-island construction workers that Pulama needs here. We don’t have a dentist either. So all those types of people coming here from off the island, this accommodation is for them as well.

“It’s not perfect,” he continued. “No project is. But we need affordable rentals. We haven’t had affordable rentals for 30 years. So it’s due.

Eight of the 76 two-bedroom affordable units in Hokuao will be rented for between $1,064 and $1,329 per month, depending on tenant income. Fifteen units will have a monthly rent between $1,330 and $1,594. And 53 of the affordable units will have a monthly rent between $1,595 and $1,860.

Ten of these affordable units are reserved for teachers, a stipulation that aims to correct a shortage of teachers, imposed on the project by the Maui County Council.

Affordable housing options on the island are currently limited to Ellison-owned 39-unit Iwiole Hale apartments and 48-unit The Courts apartments. Hokuao would nearly double the affordable housing stock to 163 units.

Hokuao will also include 74 units at market rate. Occupancy is a factor that can influence who can move in, according to Harrilynn Kameenui, senior vice president of administration and legal affairs and general counsel of Pulama Lanai.

“It’s hard to bring people (to work) here if you don’t have accommodation for them,” Kameenui said. “But in line with that are the needs of the residents here. Many of them live in multi-generational homes and they need their own space. We don’t have that right now. So it meets a combination of everyone’s needs.

Noemi Barbadillo, Pulama Lanai's Commercial and Rental Properties Manager, assists Council Member Gabe Johnson in a raffle of people who applied for affordable housing at Pulama Lanai's Hokuao housing on Lanai.
Maui County Councilman Gabe Johnson reads out the names of winners of an affordable housing lottery while Pulama Lanai commercial and residential properties manager Noemi Barbadillo assists him with a microphone. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The project is not, however, free from criticism. Originally introduced to the Lanai community as a buy-to-let home development, Hokuao homes are now only available for rent, a change that has led some residents to condemn the project for accommodating more off-island workers. than the approximately 3,000 deeply rooted people on the island. residents.

There are also a lot of rules and limitations.

All units are fully furnished right down to the art on the walls. There are two standard bedroom furniture options – two king beds or one king and two twin beds.

There are no children’s beds or cribs available. Small personal furniture can be brought by the tenants with authorization.

Each unit comes with two planters on the back veranda. Additional flower boxes can be requested, but tenants cannot put plants in the ground and potted plants are not allowed.

Renters may have a maximum of two indoor cats or dogs weighing 45 pounds or less with a pet deposit equivalent to one month’s rent.

Rent includes electricity (each unit’s roof will be fitted with Tesla solar shingles, as well as battery storage), wifi, water, trash, sewer, and landscaping. Each unit will have three 85-inch televisions and a detached two-car garage. Facilities will include a community center and a one-acre park.

The first phase of Hokuao Homes – a mix of affordable and market-priced units – should be ready to move in early next year. Construction of the 150-unit project is expected to be completed in 2024.

So far, around 160 applications have been received for the project, with nearly 60 families applying for the affordable housing.

Coverage of Maui County by Civil Beat is funded in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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