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Houses Of Aloha

AmeriCorps volunteer Brandon West (center) gets a piece of lumber from Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity executive director Stephen Spears, as volunteer Alia Reimes steadies the developing lānai for a home in the nonprofit’s ‘Ele‘ele Iluna subdivision.

Potential homeowners have a lot to look forward to as Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity continues to grow its ‘Ele‘ele Iluna subdivision while making plans for a Waimea development.

During fall 1992, when Hurricane ‘Iniki struck the island, more than 1,500 homes were destroyed and another 5,000 damaged. This devastation was the impetus for the creation of a Habitat for Humanity chapter on the Garden Isle, and the organization’s impact has only grown over the years.

Its first executive director, the late LaFrance Kapaka-Arboleda, had the foresight to see beyond the immediate needs in the aftermath of ‘Iniki. She was committed to addressing the growing housing shortage by launching a project that would create the most affordable homes in the least amount of time.

Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers help make the organization’s ReStore thrift store run smoothly.

Beginning with her stewardship, Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity acquired and purchased 24 acres of land in ‘Ele‘ele from McBryde Sugar Co. The sale went through in 2007 and, along with a large donation from ananonymous source, the land is owned “free and clear” by the nonprofit.

Now 12 years in the making, Kaua‘i Habitat’s ‘Ele‘ele Iluna subdivision is a large-scale, two-phase affordable housing project that will yield over 100 new homes for Kaua‘i families when completed.

The community impact of this project is obvious. Prior to ‘Ele‘ele Iluna’s approval, the list of people interested in homeownership with the nonprofit was about 1,800 names long. Today, that list has over 3,100 names.

Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity executive director Stephen Spears helps Shaylise Sarmiento work on her new home in the nonprofit’s ‘Ele‘ele Iluna Subdivision.

“Currently, Habitat is the only method available to deliver a house and lot between $200,000 and $250,000,” says executive director Stephen Spears. “The large number of families that need Habitat and the growing need is a constant reminder that our work is important, and that we must continue to look at creative ways to address our affordable housing problem. It is important to keep that progress going.”

Phase I of the project, completed in 2009, created 18 new homes. In the next couple of months, the organization will have completed nearly all of the homes for Phase II Part A, and in the upcoming weeks, it will break ground on the first four homes for Phase II Part B.

All 107 homes for Phase II are expected to be finished by the end of 2020.

Aside from the ‘Ele‘ele Iluna subdivision, Kaua‘i Habitat is also diligently working with County of Kaua‘i’s Housing Agency and AHE Group to plan a Waimea subdivision that will feature 35 affordable rentals and 32 single-family homes — all situated on 6.5 acres of land in Waimea.

Spears measures out a piece of lumber.

For all of these projects, the biggest challenge, according to Spears, is that as the rate of building increases, it becomes difficult to find enough construction supervisors with the necessary skill sets.

Another major challenge is finding buildable land for future subdivision development.

“This is a big challenge with the complicated subdivision process, the millions of dollars that needs to be spent and the long timeline to complete the process,” he adds.

Yet all of these challenges are overcome with fierce determination and community involvement.

“Kaua‘i Habitat wouldn’t be what we are today without our community,” Spears continues. “From homeowners and volunteers, to donors, to advocates, our community is the heart of Habitat. There’s something to be said about programs like ours where we work hand-in-hand with all sorts of individuals and groups — family, friends and strangers alike.”

Volunteerism is one of the most important facets that enables Kaua‘i Habitat to keep costs low, resulting in its ability to produce truly affordable housing.

For Spears, the hard work and long hours are all worthwhile when he sees the results firsthand.

He recalls the emotional sentiment of one particular homeowner who couldn’t believe that strangers showed up to help build their home.

“You really see the gratitude that a family has when they finish their home, and you also see their pride and satisfaction that they completed what can seem to many as a herculean task,” Spears continues.

Kaua‘i Habitat expects to have its next lot offering before the end of March for the 25 remaining lots in ‘Ele‘ele Iluna’s Phase 2 Part B, so now is the time for potential homebuyers to start doing their homework, advises Spears.

To begin, those interested in applying should visit Kaua‘i Habitat’s website at kauaihabitat.org and find “Homeownership” under the “Programs” tab.

“If you dream of owning a home one day, write it down,” suggests Spears. “Your dream will then become a goal that you can create steps toward achieving. Never give up on your plan to improve your life and that of your family, and remember that Habitat is here to help you turn your dream into a reality.”

Interested volunteers can contact Kaua‘i Habitat for Humanity at 335-0296 or email volunteer@kauaihabitat.org. Habitat for Humanity loan specialists and counselors are available on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at extension 116 or through familyservices@kauaihabitat.org.