Kahauiki Village — the vision. Phase One, currently under construction, is the area colored in green. (Courtesy kahauiki.org)

Local Businessman Duane Kurisu Envisions a Plantation-style Community with Plantation-era Values

Gregg K. Kakesako
Special to The Hawai‘i Herald

Late last month, 24 prefabricated steel-framed boxes that had been manufactured by a Japanese company as emergency homes for victims of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Fukushima arrived in the Islands to become part of a community effort to combat the complex and challenging problem of housing O‘ahu’s growing homeless population. The effort — really an experiment — is the vision of commercial real estate investor Duane Kurisu, who also owns locally produced magazines, local sports radio station ESPN 1420 and is a part-owner of the San Francisco Giants baseball team, among other business ventures.

For most of this year, however, Kurisu has been busy assembling a team of some 40 companies and organizations to build what Kurisu has named “Kahauiki Village,” an innovative, energy efficient plantation-style community for homeless individuals and families. The village will be situated on a slip of land sandwiched between Sand Island and Ke‘ehi Lagoon, on the makai (oceanside) side of Nimitz Highway. According to “Place Names of Hawaii” by Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert and Esther T. Mookini, the area was once abundant with kalo (taro) terraces.

Today, the military, construction and building industry-related companies, human service agencies and individuals are coming together to build Kahauiki Village.

THE VISION

Duane Kurisu does not believe that shelters are the solution to O‘ahu’s homeless crisis. His approach is to offer homeless families a community setting similar to the one in which he was raised on the Big Island of Hawai‘i.

Kahauiki Village is named for the ahupua‘a (Hawaiian land division extending from the uplands to the sea) in which the village is located. It will include a daycare center, a preschool, small convenience store, coin-operated laundromat, a small office for police officers and an administration building.

Solar photovoltaic panels with a battery storage system will supply electricity to the residential units. The community buildings (day care center, laundromat, etc.) will be connected to Hawaiian Electric Co.’s grid. InSynergy Engineering designed the photovoltaic system, which, in combination with gas, will fuel the village’s energy needs. Organizers say the fully built-out project of 153 homes and associated buildings will contain 1,392 photovoltaic modules producing 494.16 kilowatts using 252 solar thermal collectors.

The city is spending $4 million to install water and sewer lines for the project.

Kurisu, whose nonprofit aio Foundation is coordinating Kahauiki Village, envisions building 153 prefab modular homes that will house 300 families.

The Hawai‘i Statewide Homeless Point-In-Time Count conducted last Jan. 22 counted 7,220 persons as homeless — 4,959 on O‘ahu alone. The study found that the number of homeless not housed in shelters increased 7 percent over 2016 and that the numbers had continued to rise every year for the last five years. The sheltered component decreased 5 percent from 2016 and has declined in each of the last five years.

Retired Hawai‘i hotel executive Melvin Kaneshige is serving as project developer for Kahauiki Village. He said the goal of the project is to house 284 families, or about 1,193 individuals (including 680 children) who are currently in transitional housing.

“Kahauiki Village will have 153 families, or 54 percent of families, in transitional housing,” Kaneshige said.

The village is being built in six phases. Although groundbreaking of the site was held in July, construction of Phase One actually began in March where the Maunalua and Kalihi streams merge into Ke‘ehi Lagoon. Kurisu is hoping that the first 30 families will be able to move into the 18 two-bedroom homes, each 540 square feet, and six one-bedroom units by Christmas. The one-bedroom units will be 324-square foot duplexes. […]

PAST INSPIRES THE FUTURE

Duane Kurisu was born and raised in the sugar plantation community of Hakalau on the Big Island’s Hämäkua coast. His upbringing in the 1950s and ’60s were his inspiration for Kahauiki Village, which is designed to provide homeless families with stability, resources and a network of support.

“In plantation towns like Hakalau, the homes that we lived in may have looked like they were ready to fall down, but the warmth of family and community allowed us to live with dignity,” emphasizes the 63-year-old Kurisu, a sansei who graduated from Hilo High School in 1972 and went on to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. “Back when Hakalau was a bustling town, we had our own movie theatre, country store, post office, gymnasium, our own schools and churches of all denominations and community gardens. All of our basic needs were taken care of.

“The plantation style of growing up shaped what it is to be ‘local’ in the way we see things and in the way we act,” Kurisu added. He envisions Kahauiki Village as not just a shelter, but as a means of “building community.”

“It has to succeed, so that future generations can continue to celebrate what it is to be local,” Kurisu said.

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Gregg Kakesako worked for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Gannett News Service and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for more than four decades as a government, political and military affairs reporter and assistant city editor.

Coastal Construction crews gently slide the homes’ metal walls into place. (Photos by Gregg Kakesako)

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