Seniors in Kakaako housing to get rent assistance
Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that the state plans to provide $2.8 million over 15 years in rental subsidies for seniors living in the Na Lei Hulu Kupuna affordable housing project, where tenants feared rent increases under new owners.
Ige said the funding would come from the state’s rental assistance program under the Hawaii Housing Finance & Development Corp.
“I was very concerned when I read the stories about rent increases at Na Lei Hulu Kupuna in Kakaako. Those of our seniors and the kupuna who live in those units cannot afford to pay significant increases in their rents,” Ige told reporters. “We will be working with the developer to assure that this program can help those in most need to manage any rent increases.”
The rent subsidies — up to $250 a month — would benefit 50 existing residents in the 75-unit building who already receive rental assistance from the state.
To be eligible to rent in the building, tenants must be 62 years or older and earn no more than 60 percent of area median income, or $43,980.
When the building’s ownership changed in December from a state agency and Bank of Hawaii to Mark Development Inc., the new owner declined to assume a rental assistance program contract that had three years remaining.
The company earlier this month sent tenants a letter about a new “rent structure” with monthly rents significantly higher than the $675 that renters have been paying. Craig Watase, president of Mark Development, said the company failed to make clear that existing tenants would not be subject to the higher rents; the higher rates would apply to incoming tenants, he said.
Watase said he made a commitment to existing residents that they would continue to have their rents subsidized for at least the rest of the year while he searched for subsidy options.
“None of the existing tenants are going to pay a dime more than they were paying before. So nobody got a rent increase,” Watase said Wednesday. “We were guaranteeing it for one year. The governor is now making it so that it’s going to go on for a long time.”
Watase said when Mark Development became the property’s manager five years ago, it found that rent had not been increased since the building opened in
“The rents were frozen in time at the 60 percent of (area median income) level, while 25 years later, the 60 percent area median income for an apartment is $1,099,” he said.
The new rent schedule is tiered so that seniors earning 40 percent of area median income would pay $733; those earning up to 50 percent of area median income would pay $916; and those earning 60 percent of area median income would pay $1,099. The rent includes electricity and water.