After failed deal, state goes back to drawing board on housing project’s makeover

The dream for 2,500 homes for all incomes never got much beyond the pretty renderings.
Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 4:42 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 21, 2022 at 6:50 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -The state public housing agency and an affordable housing developer have reached an agreement over the failed plan to redevelop a public housing complex.

Eight years after the ambitious redevelopment was announced, Mayor Wright Housing in Liliha looks pretty much like it did when it was built 70 years ago.

The dream for 2,500 homes for all incomes never got much beyond the pretty renderings.

The Hawaii Public Housing Agency terminated its agreement with hunt development 27 months ago, citing costs overruns, missed deadlines and design disagreements.

Ever since then, they’ve been wrangling over how much money the state would have to pay Hunt for the work that was done before the deal fell apart.

Hunt said it was owed $5 million, but the state complained Hunt was claiming reimbursement for $800 dinners, fine liquor, inflated mileage charges and disputed construction fees.

In the end, Public Housing Director Hakim Ouansafi told his board Thursday that Hunt had agreed to accept $3.1 million for six years of work product.

“We will not reimburse hunt for $1.734 million as these costs were not reasonable or proper payments that are not related to pre-development or due diligence activities or other issue,” Ouansafi said.

Housing expert Ricky Cassiday, who did a required market study for the project, said he feels the state and Hunt could have worked out their differences and had people in new homes by now.

“Look at all the benefit you get by housing all these people, it stabilizes the community,” Cassiday said. “One in five of us needs public housing it’s shameful and it hurtful and these guys are suffering.”

Cassiday said that the public housing agency is good at maintaining existing inventory and managing its tenants, but doesn’t understand the complexities of developing new housing or trust the private developers with whom they must partner to make the subsidized housing affordable.

“Over time, construction costs always go up and the sooner you do it the better you are off,” Cassiday said.

Ouansafi said it was hard to kill the Mayor Wright deal, but since then his staff has completed environmental studies and other regulatory steps for a similarly-sized project more focused on affordable and lower income housing.

Now he just needs to find financing and a new developer.