A tower of ‘micro’ rental units gets $50M in state and federal financing
Nohona Hale will be 14 stories tall and have 107 apartments priced as affordable housing
It’s been delayed by about two years, but a radically different model of affordable housing in Honolulu took a big step forward Thursday. A development team led by a New York company received more than
$50 million in state and federal financing to build a “micro-unit” rental apartment tower in Kakaako. The project is slated to contain 107 studios with about 300 square feet of living space plus 40-squarefoot lanais. Projected monthly rents are $941 for 95 units reserved for tenants earning no more than 60 percent of the annual median income in Honolulu, and 11 units for $466 reserved for tenants earning no more than 30 percent of the median income. One unit would be for a manager.
The median income levels equate to $42,240 for a single person or $48,240 for a couple at the 60 percent income level, and half that at the 30 percent level. The 14-story tower dubbed Nohona Hale will be built on a 10,409-square-foot lot, which is a typical amount of land for one single-family home, at 630 Cooke St. near the corner of Queen Street leased from the state.
Nohona Hale is led by New York-based affordablehousing development firm Bronx Pro Group LLC. The company was selected by the Hawaii Community Development Authority — a state agency that regulates development in Kakaako and owns the property — over six competing proposals from private developers in June 2015. At that time Bronx Pro projected that it could start construction in 2016 and be finished in 2017.
Now construction is projected to start in May 2018 and be finished in January 2020. Samantha Magistro, a Bronx Pro principal, said the initial timetable was pushed back largely because of time it took to reach a development agreement with the HCDA for a 60-year lease.
The agreement was signed in April and allowed Bronx Pro and its partners, which include experienced Hawaii affordable-housing developer EAH Housing, to apply for the government financing.
The board of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., a state agency that helps finance affordable housing, unanimously approved that financing Thursday.
The HHFDC approved $27 million in Hula Mae bonds, $22 million from the state’s rental housing revolving fund, $1.8 million in state tax credits over five years and $1.8 million in federal tax credits over 10 years. All the financing adds up to more than the project’s $48 million cost because some pieces of financing get replaced by others as the project proceeds. During Thursday’s HHFDC meeting, some concerns were raised, including one about the tower’s lack of tenant parking.
“The reality is people need a car,” said board member Audrey Abe. “I just hate to see people not having the option of having a car.”
Magistro said the expectation is that tenants will ride mass transit. A city rail station is planned about two blocks away, and a bike storage room is part of Nohona Hale. Magistro added that perhaps spaces for mopeds could be included but that adding a level of parking was costprohibitive for the project, which in 2015 was estimated to cost $33 million before construction costs soared on Oahu.
Magistro also addressed the notion that people will be crammed into tiny living spaces. She said features in the apartments, including 9-foot ceilings, floor-toceiling windows and the lanais, create a livable space.
“We’re not just cramming boxes into a building,” she said.
HHFDC board member Denise Iseri-Matsubara said she wanted to see the project move ahead promptly because it will show whether the concept, which has not been done in Hawaii, works. If it does, Iseri-Matsubara said, it could help get homeless off the streets.
“We really want to look forward to this coming to fruition,” she said. Board Chairwoman Leilani Pulmano added, “This is exciting. This is an innovative project.” Board member Mel Kahele raised a concern about how much profit is forecast to pass to general contractor Swinerton Builders. He said the profit, $56 per square foot, is almost double the typical industry figure of $33. The construction cost of Nohona Hale is about $400 per square foot, including the $56-per-square-foot profit. Officials representing the developer and the HHFDC said the profit figure looks high because the building contains about twice as many apartments as a typical similar-size building. This means there are twice as many kitchens, bathrooms and other elements that inflate the cost and profit on a persquare-foot basis. Magistro added that the company has the ability to put the work up for competitive bidding if reviews on construction costs suggest a fair deal is not being made.
“We’ll absolutely look at it more closely,” she said. Magistro said she is particularly excited to deliver Nohona Hale because it could become a model for similar projects that can produce affordable housing quicker because more homes can fit in a single project compared with typical affordable housing.
“We’re very committed to this concept of micro-units,” she said. “We think it’s an innovative tool for affordable-housing development, and actually it will be a tool that will be more prevalent in our industry.”