Vision of building transitional housing with invasive trees takes big step forward

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former University of Hawaii student who wants to transform invasive trees into transitional housing is putting his idea to the test.

The Albizia Project is building a full-scale prototype of a two-story home with nearly 400 square feet of living space on the lawn outside the UH-Manoa School of Architecture.

"The further we took this, the further it got, the more support kind of snowballed behind it, but especially in the beginning there was pretty much 99 percent of the people thinking I was crazy," said creator Joey Valenti.

Albizia trees have caused costly damage across Hawaii, especially in Puna during Tropical Storm Iselle.

"That was the wake-up call I think for the state. We were already looking at albizia control strategies, but when Iselle hit, I think that made it a lot more real to everyone across the state," said Josh Atwood, invasive species coordinator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Project supporters have been working hard to overcome skepticism about whether the wood is strong enough.

"One of the things that we're interested to see and learn is how the structure actually performs over the next 12 months where it's out in the elements," said Matthew Lynch, UH System sustainability coordinator. "To get it to this far, where we could actually go through the engineering tests and be surprised by those results has sort of debunked and busted a lot of those myths.

The Hawaii Invasive Species Council approved a new Albizia Statewide Strategic Plan in January to provide objectives and a framework to minimize the impacts of the trees.

"We're supportive of any effort that removes invasive species from our forests, obviously, and if there's a use for that, that's great, as long as it's not turning the species into a commodity that people would then want to protect," said Josh Atwood, invasive species coordinator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources. 

Supporters said that the project would not provide an incentive to grow more albizia trees.

"For every albizia tree that we remove, if we can replace it with two or three native species, that's sort of our ultimate vision," said Lynch.

Valenti expects to have most of the prototype finished by this weekend. A blessing ceremony is scheduled for the end of April.

The display will remain up for one year.

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