KAILUA-KONA — The last time Brad Ballesteros looked into affordable housing in Kailua-Kona for his mother, Nell, he was told there’d be a modest waiting period — of at least four years.
So when Kamakana Villages at Keahuolu announced a lottery for its 85 affordable senior living units, the Ballesteros family jumped at the chance. Their luck changed, as Nell’s name was the first drawn. Four days before ringing in the new year, the family rounded up four trucks and a van, moving their 87-year-old matriarch from Kohala to her new digs in Kona, complete with an ocean-facing view.
“It’s good, I like it,” Nell said. “Family can visit more often, which is good for me.”
On a fixed income, Nell is like many Hawaii Island seniors — capable of living on her own but with a few caveats. His mother’s situation, Brad said, highlights how crucial the units at Kamakana are for the community, as well as how vital it is that the county and state invest in more.
“There’s not enough elderly housing,” he said. “My mom wants to be independent. She wants to be close, but she doesn’t want to live with family because she says she doesn’t want to be a burden. But with no housing available, a lot of times (kupuna) are forced to move in with family.”
Brad said his mother was initially scheduled to move in this November but “due to problems that come with new buildings,” that date was pushed back. Most of the apartments on Nell’s floor, he said, remain empty.
Elizabeth Char — development officer with Michaels Development Company, which developed both the senior living units and the adjacent family living units as part of the larger Kamakana Villages — offered an explanation as to why.
“We are moving residents into the units … and that takes some time and coordination because we can’t have 85 households moving in all at once,” she said. “Several units are occupied every week.”
Questor Lau, another development officer with Michaels, said they started filling the family units in November, all of which were filled before Thanksgiving. The focus has now pivoted to the senior housing, and both Lau and Char said the county has helped to expedite permits and approvals, including a temporary certificate of occupancy that allowed tenants to start occupying living spaces.
“We’ve had very little fallout,” said Char, speaking of tenants who were selected via lottery and then backed out — something she said is to be anticipated with any large project. “It’s been pretty smooth.”
More to come
Char added that Michaels is hoping to develop three more affordable family housing projects somewhere in the 272-acre Kamakana Villages property located off Ane Keohokalole Highway as soon as the appropriate sites can be identified. The sites will factor heavily into the scope of the potential projects.
But it might be awhile.
The original master plan for the area includes 1,169 affordable units and 1,161 market units, along with 197,000 square feet of commercial space and acreages of varying sizes set aside for use as schools, parks, archaeological preserves and open spaces.
The project is in flux, however, as master developer Forest City Hawaii Kona LLC has been engaged in discussions with Stanford Carr to sell the development rights of Kamakana Villages.
The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation Board in November approved an amendment to the development agreement for its assignment to a development entity of Stanford Carr.
“Negotiations for the assignment are ongoing,” Richard Prahler, development branch chief at HHFDC, wrote in an email to West Hawaii Today. “If successful, Stanford Carr’s development entity, SCD Kamakana, LLC, will officially take over work upon execution of the assignment documents in a few months.”
HHFDC struck a development agreement with Forest City in March 2009 with a completion date set for April 2023 and an option for a five-year extension under certain stipulations.
Prahler said if Stanford Carr takes over, the company has indicated it will engage the county to revise the master plan. Changes to the plan might mean further delay of any development.
“We would anticipate that they might make tweaks to the Master Plan in terms of specific locations of uses,” he wrote. “If SCD takes over, they will dictate the location and pace of development. There are still additional water and sewer capacity issues to be solved, so there is limited immediate development that can occur.”
“There are several development ready parcels adjacent to the already completed (affordable housing) project,” Prahler continued. “SCD would have to decide what they want to build on those parcels.”
Another project that must be finished before more extensive development can proceed is the completion of the Manawalea Street Extension, which Prahler explained “satisfies initial traffic requirements of the County and the Land Use Commission for Kamakana Villages.”
Work on that road has stalled in recent months, as dust control measures required more water than North Kona’s strapped water system could provide.
Kaiulani Matsumoto, Hawaii County Department of Water Supply spokesperson, wrote in an email to WHT Tuesday that the system is now capable of supplying the construction project’s water needs whenever work resumes.