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Hawaii County Opens Transitional Housing Project in West Hawai’i

A low-income rental and transitional housing complex in West Hawai’i which will also provide job training and life skills was formally opened today, Tuesday, Nov. 22 by Mayor Billy Kenoi’s Administration.

Known as Na Kaulana Kauhale O Ulu Wini, the first 40 units of a projected 96-unit, service enriched project, will provide case management, mail and computer access along with an array of on-site social services such as employment and life skills training, mental health services, counseling and childcare.

“If we truly represent aloha, then we have to not just talk about projects,” said Mayor Kenoi, who was joined at the blessing by the County Office of Housing and Community Development, which built the community, and Hope Services Hawai’i, which will operate it. “We have to deliver.”

The complex features 28 low-income units, targeted for families which earn 30 to 50 percent of the area median income. The balance of the units, which are identical two-bedroom, 750-square-foot homes will be designated for homeless families who can occupy them for as long as two years, in return for in-kind services.

“When we sat down to talk about this, we said, ‘let’s do something beautiful,’” said Mayor Kenoi. “Let’s not just put up four walls and say we did something good.”

Brandee Menino, executive director of Hope Services, formerly the Care-A-Van program of the Diocese of Honolulu, said maintenance is a barrier for homeless families seeking permanent shelter. She said the program at Na Kaulana Kauhale O Ulu Wini will help train families to be proud of where they live and to take care of their surroundings.

“We want them not only to survive,” she said. “We want them to thrive.”

In addition to the living units, the complex features a community center with laundry facilities, a common kitchen and meeting area, administrative offices for the program operator, and a dividable multi-purpose room for classes and meetings. The community will be powered via photovoltaic energy, and when completed, 80 percent of the water needed for irrigation will be produced by the on-site wastewater treatment plant.

Steve Arnett, director of the Office of Housing and Community Development, said Mayor Kenoi empowered him to make tough decisions that are sometimes necessary for success. “What you see here is the result of that direction by our mayor.”

Elizabeth Maluihi Lee, a noted Kona weaver who grew up in the Kaloko area, said she enjoyed the area as a youth,  listening to the wind blowing through the trees and the sounds of animals as she walked from her home in the mauka area to the shoreline via a nearby trail.

“Back then, there was only lehua, lama and some kukui,” she said, noting that most of the native forest in the areas has disappeared. “But the buildings are growing now, taking their place,” she said. “They are reviving the life of Ulu Wini.”

Funding for the first 40 units was provided through a county Capital Improvement Project appropriation of $7.5 million, and a U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Neighborhood Stabilization Program No. 1 Grant of $4.87 million awarded through the state Housing Finance and Development Corporation. The next phase of 36 units and an employment training facility will also be a mix of HUD and county money, including another $4 million from a Neighborhood Stabilization Program No. 3 Grant.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/zVlJOPleyUM]

The transitional component replaces the former Kawaihae Transitional Housing Project, which had to be shut down after the Environmental Protection Agency ordered its large-capacity cesspools closed. The closure of the Kawaihae facility is nearly complete and 20 of the structures have been moved to Pahoa where they will be remodeled and used for housing there.

On Friday, Mayor Kenoi formally opened Kamakoa Nui Model Homes and 12-acre Community Park , which will eventually be a 1,200 unit workforce housing community near employment centers in Waikoloa.

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