WAIPOULI — Larisa Jensen is a 26-year-old single mother of two, one of 31 families living in affordable housing at the Courtyards at Waipouli Apartments.
In August, she will be forced to move from the home where she has raised her two boys alone. She may have to join the military as a means of supporting her two children and ensuring housing, she explained with tears in her eyes.
Effectively, Jensen said she will be forced off Kauai as a result of the pending sale of the Courtyards. She works two full-time jobs to be able to afford her rental unit.
“I’m just going to accept the fact that I can’t go to my mom’s house anymore,” she said. “Luckily, I have family here, but rent control is ridiculous. They’re asking for a studio at $1,400 a month. I can’t afford that.”
The Courtyards offers 41 units that are designated “affordable housing.” For the last ten years, it has been contractually obligated to accept residents who earn 80 percent or less than the Kauai’s median household income, but that stipulation expires in August.
The units will be sold by the current owner, KD Waipouli LLC and manager Kevin Showe, and the units will become higher-priced rentals.
Ten affordable units have already been vacated.
The rent for the affordable units is based on percentage of income. For example, the rate for a one bedroom unit for occupants making 65 percent of the medium income is $989, while tenants who earn 85 percent of the median income pay $1,244.
The county has a built-in option within the affordable housing 10-year contract to purchase the units and keep it from being sold on the open market, but the asking price is $37 million. That price was offered to the county at the end of 2018 and is one the county administration has not been willing to enter into negotiations over.
“On behalf of the County of Kauai, the Kauai County Housing Council Agency regrettably declines to accept KD Waipouli’s offer for the Waipouli Project at the current offered price,” Housing Director Kanani Fu said in a letter to Showe and KD Waipouli dated on Dec. 17, 2018.
A clause within the 2010 contract between the county and the Courtyards’ owner gives the county another option. In the event that the two parties cannot agree on a price, the contract stipulates that the value of the property can be assessed by three different appraisers, with the fair market value determined by the decision of two of the three appraisers.
Councilman Mason Chock proposed a resolution to get the issue on the agenda at the March 13 meeting, but it never materialized. Instead, eight citizens waited for county council members outside their chambers that day. They were trying to catch them during their recess to express just how dire their situation is with the pending August deadline to vacate their units.
Several council members listened patiently as residents explained why they needed the council’s help to keep their homes. Some hold hope that the state will intervene and buy the units, but hope is slowly fading.
“The state has told us this is a county issue,” said Jody Kono, a resident of a two-bedroom unit.
Kono has lived in the units since November after struggling to find an affordable place beforehand. The only other option for her besides the affordable housing unit she is in was an overpriced studio apartment in Waimea. If there is no intervention, she will have to move a third time in five years.
Kono knows that the situation is dire and there is not much hope, but she speaks out nonetheless because she sees this issue as something that has a bigger picture.
“If the mayor demands a sit-down face to face, they will have to honor that,” Kono said, adding that she was advised on the matter by many political parties.
Kauai County Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro explained to one of the residents at the March 13 impromptu discussion that a council resolution is not binding and does not guarantee anything.
“There was a resolution in a process to hit the agenda that encouraged Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation to work with the developer to purchase the property,” he said. “Prior to the resolution hitting the agenda, the county was informed by HHFDC that they were not able to strike a deal to purchase due to timing and price factors. Any hope of that deal is done.”
The housing department will be meeting with the residents regarding any county programs and options to facilitate relocations, according to Kaneshiro.
“I understand the sensitivity and urgency of the situation and don’t want to mislead anyone or provide false hope. My intention has and always will be to provide realistic expectations through this process,” he said in an email.
Barry Parris, who has resided at the Courtyards for several years, is frustrated.
“Going to market and being evicted are two very different things,” he said.
Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, who represents the Waipouli district in the Legislature, said he isn’t sure why the previous administration didn’t acquire the property in the past.
“As far as I know, the legislature put aside money for affordable housing statewide in the tune of $500 million last session,” Tokioka said. “I don’t think there are any plans for the county or the state to purchase those units, but what I do know is that the county under the previous administration had the opportunity to buy back the units and for some reason … they did not opt-in to purchase the property.”
In a Nov. 11, 2018 guest commentary published in The Garden Island, former councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura wrote that the county’s policy on long-term affordability for housing was not working, citing the situation at the Courtyards at Waipouli as an example.
The 82-unit affordable housing rental project across from Kintaro Restaurant was required as a condition of zoning for the Kauai Lagoons resort development (750 luxury oceanfront condos above the Kauai Marriott), but it had only a 10-year buy-back clause, she wrote.
“In 2009, in an act of short-sightedness, the County Council and mayor permanently waived the affordability requirement for 41 of the 82 units. Next year, on Aug. 19, 2019, the buy-back clause expires and with it the affordability of the remaining affordable units,” Yukimura wrote.
“Forty-one qualified families renting there will have to move. So will the other 41 who are renting at market rates if the units are converted to vacation rentals. In this current housing market, where will all these families go? Instead of expanding, Kauai’s affordable housing inventory will be shrinking.”
In his budget submitted to the county council, Mayor Derek S.K. Kawakami listed affordable housing as the number two priority.
“We have identified state lands near our Water Department in Lihue as a potential site to build such housing for our homeless families,” the budget reads.
The residents are not giving up hope that they will be able to remain in their homes as they collect signatures to help their cause and have issued letters to the county council.
Pua, a female resident who declined to give her last name, has lived in the complex for the past three years. She has two boys, the oldest of whom is graduating this May and will be moving out. The other son will be staying for the next few years until he graduates from high school.
“First I was like, ‘I have plenty of time,’” she said. “When we got the date, which is August of this year, we were kind of in shock because I don’t want to move again. You know, it’s stressful and on top of that, I am sending a kid to college. It’s rough right now.”
Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or email@example.com.