A Home For Everyone

Nonprofit Permanently Affordable Living Kaua‘i, led by founders Harvest and Jim Edmonds, are working toward the end goal of building 5,000 affordable homes for Garden Isle residents.

“We bought our first, nice house in Kīlauea in 1988 for $125,000. After 32 years in real estate on Kaua‘i, I am shocked to say that there are only three houses on the Kīlauea plane listed under $1 million! This real estate market is off the rails,” exclaims realtor Jim Edmonds.

Edmonds and wife Harvest are the owners of Emerald Isle Properties, and they are motivated to drastically change Kaua‘i’s housing market with the goal of providing homes and permanently affordable living situations for residents. With that objective in mind, they created the newly minted nonprofit PAL-Kaua‘i, which stands for Permanently Affordable Living Kaua‘i.

Upon moving to the Garden Isle in January 1975, Edmonds had to decide whether he wanted to commute each day from the North Shore to Līhu‘e.

“I found out that it took a friend seven hours to get home from Līhu‘e because of the traffic,” recalls Edmonds. “I knew then I could not work in Līhu‘e and leave my young family on the North Shore. I had years of experience in sales and marketing, so real estate seemed like a natural fit.”

And so he launched Emerald Isle Properties, which, as he puts it, “is what enables us to fund this noble work.”

Although the couple created a successful real estate business, they believed there was a looming housing crisis on the island.

“I have been in Hawai‘i for 45 years and raised my family here,” Edmonds says. “All of our boys left Hawai‘i for years and all came back — a miracle! We have three grandchildren and one on the way.”

Edmonds is now thinking about the next generation of Kaua‘i children and what their futures will look like — and he worries.

Then, Edmonds received a phone call that seemed to confirm his worst concerns. The call came from Taylor Kaluahine Reid, who had just completed her degree, and with her real estate license she wanted to help her generation find homes on Kaua‘i.

“We (wanted) to help, we always worked hard to help local people get into housing, but it took us about 15 minutes to realize that those options were pau years ago,” Edmonds explains. “(Today) there is nothing we can do unless we build homes inexpensively.

“This is a tragic situation for the multi-generational residents of Kaua‘i,” he continues. “They cannot compete financially with the people moving here. I have a friend, sophisticated lady, who grew up on Kaua‘i, who’s renting a tent in Kīlauea for $1,200 a month.”

There are many reasons it is difficult to find affordable housing on the Garden Isle. According to Edmonds, only about 7 percent of the island is zoned for development in what he describes as “our uniquely beautiful strip along the coast (where) ‘resortification’ is jacking the prices out of reality.”

Thus, the organization’s long-term goal is to partner with Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity and other large affordable housing developers to create 5,000 “truly and permanently affordable homes” in comfortable, walk-to-work communities.

Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity executive director Stephen Spears says he is hopeful that the two organizations will eventually find the right project to form a partnership. Currently, the average cost of a home in the Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity ‘Ele‘ele area is $235,000, and there are approximately 2,700 families interested in finding affordable housing.

Permanently Affordable Living Kaua‘i’s board members include (from left) Larry Graff, Greg Crowe and Jim Edmonds.

PAL-Kaua‘i proposes an “E Komo Mai” process to simplify the permitting procedure for affordable projects and bring back affordable developers. Edmonds also suggests that wealthy landowners “need to let us develop their land. They can donate the land, or break even or even make a small profit.”

“We feel like we’re swimming upstream in molasses,” he adds. “To fix this, we’re going to have to be like the Jesus Christ lizards and run on top of the molasses, (but) I am finally proud to be a broker because we are channeling most of our energy and much of our income into completing this noble work.”

PAL-Kaua‘i’s board includes Greg Crowe and Larry Graff, with Harvest serving as treasurer. The remaining board members are a diverse group, beginning with Reid, who Edmonds says, “is one of the reasons that we started this work.” There is also Hōkū Rowland, who became a board member while he was homeless. Leilani Spencer bought her own house with county assistance, and Puna Kalama Dawson is a kumu hula and housing advocate. Finally, Edmonds offers his gratitude to the community.

“We would not be here without community support,” he says. “We cannot do it alone. Thank you to those who are helping. We had our first fundraiser, and many people supported us financially and are helping to get this work done. But the work is infinite, and there are never too many helpers.

“With community support, we can build this momentum, and actually solve this crisis, if we work together.”

For more information, visit pal-kauai.org.