If You Build It…
You don’t need $1 million in the bank to own a home on Kauai, even if current real estate prices suggest otherwise.
Kauai County Housing Agency offers programs that help low-income families make homeownership a reality. Plenty of projects are currently in the works, including Lima Ola Workforce Housing Development, which will bring 500 affordable homes and rental units to a 75-acre parcel of land in Ele‘ele — the largest affordable housing project the county has undertaken to date, with the first phase of 149 units already underway.
“Affordable housing has been on the forefront of the community’s needs,” says Kanani Fu, housing director for KCHA.
This year has been quite busy in the affordable-housing arena, and Fu already has been to two project grand openings and four groundbreaking ceremonies since she took her post in March. “To be at these moments and to see everyone come to the table, and then later on you see the families and the seniors, it’s an amazing feeling,” she says.
Fu was recently all smiles while showing off the latest project her team is working on: phase two of Kanikoo senior housing in Lihue. The construction is well underway, and dozens of workers are there nearly every day, rain or shine, building the second portion of the project, which will add 30 units to the existing 60 from phase one. The entire project is on track to be completed by November.
“There has been a lot of effort by the mayor’s administration to really work together, to really break down the silos,” she says.
Even though gaining access to land can be tricky on an island with limited resources, Fu admits it’s been a “great time” for affordable housing.
“I think our elected leadership get it,” she says.
Funding opportunities are presenting themselves more readily, and it helps that several developments currently in the works have agreements with the agency to build a certain number of affordable housing units, including Kohea Loa in Hanamaulu and Koae in Poipu.
“The economy is picking up right now,” says Fu.
It also helps that her team continues to “turn over every rock” in order to discover as many grants and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding options
The demand, however, for affordable housing (a family of four can make up to 140 percent of Kauai’s median income — for 2016, that means up to $104,050 qualifies for purchasing a home) is still greater than the supply. Kanikoo, which isn’t even completed yet, already has a wait-list. “Development takes time because putting all the pieces together can take five to seven years to get a project off the ground,” she says.
Clearly, Fu has her hands full. “It’s overwhelming,” she adds.
Still, she’s grateful for the help she’s had along the way, including mentorship by her predecessor, Kamuela Cobb-Adams.
She’s also thankful for the assistance she continues to receive.
“We have the best department,” she says. “It’s really inspiring to go to work. Everybody wants to go to work. Isn’t that crazy? We love our jobs.”
As busy as her life is, Fu always has managed to find the time for great accomplishments. Born and raised in Anahola, Fu attended Kamehameha Schools, then graduated from Pacific University in Oregon with a major in math and physics, and earned a master’s degree in organizational change from Hawaii Pacific University in Honolulu. She was determined to move back to Kauai to serve her community and landed various jobs at Hawaiian organizations, including Office of Hawaiian Affairs, before settling into a Kauai County job working for the Agency on Elderly Affairs. Before entering her current job, she was special assistant to the housing director.
“I get to do what I really love and I get to do it on Kauai. I get to stay here — come back home and work and raise my kids here,” says Fu, who lives on her family’s ranch in Hanamaulu.
“We’re riding a good cloud and we’ve just got to stay on it,” she says.