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12 new efficiency studios to be available by early fall in Pahoa for homeless kupuna

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Rev. John T. Molina blesses the site of the Sacred Heart Affordable Housing Project by HOPE Services during the groundbreaking in Pahoa on Friday, April 16, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Work has started at the site for the new housing project by HOPE Services is in Pahoa.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald CEO of HOPE Services Brandee Menino speaks during the groundbreaking for the Sacred Heart Affordable Housing Project in Pahoa on Friday, April 16, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Mayor Mitch Roth speaks during the groundbreaking for the Sacred Heart Affordable Housing Project by HOPE Services in Pahoa on Friday, April 16, 2021.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Seajay Pool sends a shaka from the porch of his temporary home Friday in Pahoa. Pool’s temporary home was one of several micro units built at Sacred Heart Catholic Church to house evacuees from the 2018 Kilauea volcano eruption, which are now being used as a shelter. The location for the new HOPE Services Hawaii modular units for homeless kupuna will be adjacent to those micro units.

After “plenty pivots, rocky roads,” a long-awaited affordable housing project in Pahoa is underway.

HOPE Services Hawaii plans to have 12 small modular units — efficiency studios that have a full kitchen and bathroom — available for homeless kupuna 62 and older by early fall.

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A groundbreaking and blessing for the project were conducted Friday at the new housing site, drawing a small crowd that included Mayor Mitch Roth, Puna County Council members Ashley Kierkiewicz and Matt Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder, as well as community partners who helped support the project.

The new efficiency studios will be located on 14.5 acres in Pahoa, adjacent to existing micro units built at Sacred Heart Catholic Church to house evacuees from the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano which are now being used as a shelter.

The new units will be long-term rentals, and 30% of an individual’s income will go toward rent.

After nearly a decade of work on the project, HOPE Services CEO Brandee Menino said following the ceremony it’s “super exciting” to get to this point.

“There’s a need in Pahoa,” she said. “There’s a need in our entire community. Homelessness is apparent as you go throughout our community. … We just want to make sure there’s resources, housing in which people already live. Before this (micro unit) build there was no shelter in Pahoa. The nearest one was in Hilo. People would rather choose homelessness, because they want to stay in their community. So, we’ve got to bring services to them.”

The modular homes will be built off-site by HPM Building Supply.

“We needed a product that was transportable due to the realization that lava threatens this community,” Menino said. “We wouldn’t want to ignore that. That may happen.”

The project sits on land currently owned by the Roman Catholic Church, but Menino said HOPE Services is in the process of purchasing the property.

“Affordable housing is everyone’s priority right now, and it’s been interesting getting projects off the ground,” said Kaneali‘i-Kleinfelder following Friday’s ceremony. “You can see the benefit of having public-private partnership. … The county can support a project, but (it is) hard for us to actually go out and build one … so when you have all the private players come in, it’s simpler and they can get it done faster than us.”

The housing is much needed, he said.

“Pahoa is rural, we’re real low income. Our community just needs projects like this, so this is beautiful.”

The total cost of the project is $2.2 million, not including another $25,000 HOPE Services is trying to raise to furnish the homes.

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Donations can be made online at hopeserviceshawaii.org/donate.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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