Home at last – Where the rent is affordable

While her first load of laundry in her new place ran in the brand-new front-loader washing machine, Bobbee Downs just sat on the floor and watched in awe.

“I just couldn’t get over the fact that everything was brand new,” Downs said.

And everything really was brand new to Downs, from the energy-efficient appliances to the apartment; it was her “first new home, ever.”

Downs has been living in her apartment at Kalepa Village for one week. She said it was getting harder and harder to find affordable housing on Kaua‘i. She found herself having a hard time making ends meet as an after-school program coordinator at Kapa‘a Elementary School.

“Who thinks you will make less money when you get older?” Downs said of her financial situation. “It’s hard when you can’t even buy land around here for less than half a million.”

So Downs managed to score a one-bedroom apartment in Kalepa Village, an affordable rental project consisting of one-, two- and three-bedroom units in Hanama‘ulu. The project benefits those at the lower end of the income scale.

“I feel blessed (to live here),” said Downs, the mother of a grown daughter. “I would have been happy to just have an affordable place.”

The Kaua‘i Housing Development Corporation and Unlimited Construction Services hosted a blessing yesterday to dedicate Phase III — where Downs lives — and a groundbreaking for Phase IV, the final phase of the project.

Dignitaries in attendance included Mayor Bryan Baptiste, Sen. Gary Hooser and Kaua‘i County Council members.

“We celebrate today as another step into getting residents into affordable housing,” Baptiste said. “We hope this will alleviate some of the pressure from the market.”

Baptiste thanked the council for making the project a reality and “everyone who is making this dream a reality.”

Hooser thanked Unlimited Construction and the county for all the hard work.

“I am committed to doing what we can at the state level to continue developing these projects,” Hooser said.

Randy Finley of Unlimited Construction expressed his appreciation to the community.

“This project represents what a community stands for,” Finley said. “I want to show appreciation to the community and the taxpayers that made this happen.”

According to Gary Mackler, development coordinator for Kaua‘i County Housing Agency, all units in the Phase III addition of Kalepa Village are already leased to residents.

The Kalepa Village project site was acquired by the county in 1994.

The first phase of the project was finished in 1997, providing 60 rental units and a multi-purpose building. In 2004, the second phase was completed, offering an additional 40 units. The third phase provided another 40 units.

For the fourth and final phase, Gov. Linda Lingle released $1 million in December. Construction is slated to be finished by the end of the year, bringing the total number of units to 180.

Phase III was developed by Kaua‘i Housing Development Corporation, while Phase IV will be developed by Kaua‘i County Housing Agency.

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com.

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