Housing progress: On the threshold of change at HPHA

Posted on Aug 29, 2018 in Capitol Connection, Featured

Director Hakim Ouansafi at the HPHA offices

Big changes — and better affordable housing options — are coming to Kalihi. That’s the vision of Hakim Ouansafi, the executive director of the Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority.  His vision changes what he calls a “failed formula” of putting poor people together in one run-down building. Instead, Ouansafi, his staff and consultants have developed plans for two major redevelopment projects on O‘ahu, with others on the neighbor islands to follow in the future.

One is the Mayor Wright Homes complex near the rail transit line, which will transform the current 20-acre site into a mixed-income, mixed-use village of about 2,500 rental units. Two-thirds of the units will consist of public housing and affordable units. Public housing units include families with incomes ranging from zero to 30 percent area median income (AMI). Affordable, or  “workforce” housing units, will have families with incomes of 120 percent AMI or below. The remaining third would be for market-rate tenants. The HPHA team is working with Hunt Development Co. on the details of the design.

Current conceptual plans include a park, rooftop recreation decks and a vibrant community mix of stores and other services. “It’s going to be beautiful,” said Ouansafi. “We anticipate starting construction at the end of 2019 with about 600 units in Phase I. Our mandate as a housing authority is that the affordable units would remain affordable for life.” Scott Jepsen, a national housing consultant, praised the agreement HPHA has been able to negotiate with its developer partners. “HPHA has been able to negotiate terms much better than what Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allows in cost sharing agreements, developer fees and cash flow split,” said Jepsen. “I commend HPHA for its extraordinary ability to obtain terms that will positively impact the overall affordable housing challenge in Hawai‘i,” he said.

A rendering of the new Mayor Wright complex

Another major project to create more units will be a 100 percent affordable rental housing project for seniors age 62 and older at the current HPHA site on North School Street. Based on community input, the project was scaled back to 800 units with a focus on the elderly. “This project represents a huge opportunity to address the tremendous need for affordable senior rentals,” said Governor Ige. “By repurposing state land, we’re able to lower the cost of development and deliver more homes to those desperately in need of a place to live.”

Ouansafi said that he, the HPHA Board of Directors, and the governor have been committed to 100 percent transparency and to involving the community in planning for better housing.

Another view of the proposed Mayor Wright design.

Shortly after he became HPHA director, Ouansafi lived for four months in Mayor Wright Homes to learn firsthand what needed to be changed. “I came from a comfortable life with a career in resort development,” he said. “I looked at hundreds of reports from consultants done between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. I wanted to live in a Mayor Wright unit, hear from other tenants about the issues and feel what it was like for children living there.” Ouansafi went on to say, “For our tenants, it’s about how we can achieve safety and security. For taxpayers, it’s how we can manage taxpayers’ money better and, for future tenants, how we can help some of the thousands of families who are on our wait list.”

Read more in September Capitol Connection newsletter