90-unit affordable house project proposed for Hilo – West Hawaii Today

A draft environmental assessment for a proposed 90-unit affordable housing project for seniors and families in Hilo has an anticipated finding of no significant impact.

The project, called Hale Ola O Mohouli, would be developed on a 9.091-acre state parcel on Mohouli Street near the mauka-Hamakua corner of Mohouli and Komohana streets. The developer is Hawaii Island Community Development Corp., a nonprofit that aims to assist low- to moderate-income Big Island residents obtain affordable housing.

“We’re proposing a mix of senior and family units,” Keith Kato, HICDC executive director, said Monday. “The concept we’re trying to implement here … is called a ‘pocket neighborhood.’ Pocket neighborhoods are basically a cluster of small structures, single-family and duplex buildings, around a common green, so they form a nice social setting where people get to know their neighbors — and, hopefully, it develops more of a sense of community.

“So, the plan is to have a series of pocket neighborhoods arranged within these nine acres.”

Kato said pocket neighborhoods are a new concept locally.

“There are projects like this on the mainland, and we visited one up in Washington state. It’s quite an attractive project,” he said. “We’re hoping that we can get all the financing we need so we can develop this concept so that the community can take a look at it and see if it is something that should be pursued elsewhere.”

HICDC also is the developer of the nearby 182-unit Mohouli Heights Senior Neighborhood and 30-unit Kinoole Senior Residences near the old Food Fair supermarket site.

According to the draft EA, prepared by Ron Terry of Geometrician Associates, the estimated cost for the proposed project is $47 million and would require a zoning change from agricultural to urban, a national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit from the state Department of Health, plus grading, grubbing and driveway permits from the county Department of Public Works, and building permits and plan approval by DPW and the Planning Department.

Withe the proper approvals, the draft EA estimates the project will be ready for construction in late 2022 and completed in mid-2024.

“I think it’s a bit optimistic but I think it’s doable,” Kato said.

The draft EA states the target households for rentals would be those with 60% or less of the area mean income of $75,200 a year, with about 6,350 households meeting that criterion in the target area of Hilo, and an additional 1,530 households in the secondary target areas of Wainaku to Pepeekeo and Keaau to Kurtistown.

“Until recently, home construction on the Big Island had outpaced population growth, albeit skewed to upper income levels,” the document states. “Since shortly after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the demand for housing has skyrocketed — partly fueled by mainland retirees and tech workers fleeing crowded urban areas — and the affordable housing crisis has worsened.

“The proposed project would answer the need for additional affordable rental housing in East Hawaii at a centrally located site supplied with existing utility infrastructure, within a mile or two of shopping, schools and job centers.”

The EA estimated total potential demand for Hale Ola O Mohouli’s units is “between 280 to 573 units” in the primary and secondary target areas, with “between 45 and 92” units the potential demand for senior housing.

“There’s just a tremendous need for this type of affordable housing,” Kato concluded. “We’ve been doing, in terms of the rentals, entirely senior housing. But what we found out through the market analysis was the need for family housing is five times as great as it is for seniors in the lower incomes. We’re basically going to try to address some of that need through this project.”

The draft EA is available online at bit.ly/3lNDBrb, and the public can submit comments on the proposal by email to Tracie-Lee.Camero@hawaiicounty.gov until Sept. 7.