HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo HOPE Services plans to auction off 21 weathered housing units currently sitting idle in Pahoa.





March 2, 2017 By JEFF HANSEL Hawaii Tribune-Herald

Housing units sitting idle in Pahoa for years will be auctioned off instead of renovated.

Twenty 16-foot-by-12-foot units and one 16-foot-by-14-foot unit are being sold “as is” by HOPE Services Hawaii, a nonprofit that works to provide emergency, transitional and permanent housing.

But there’s a wrinkle.

Former County Councilwoman Emily Naeole of Makuu Hawaiian Homestead has taken issue with the sale because she helped get the units moved from the west side of the island to Puna. The purpose was to use the units to decrease homelessness. They would have been destroyed if she hadn’t intervened, she said.

Naeole learned the units were going to be made into rubbish and got approval to instead have them saved. The units were moved to Catholic Church land in Pahoa — and there they have sat. Title was transferred to HOPE Services.

Now, because of the condition of the housing units after weathering and vandalism, the HOPE Services board decided to sell them.

But that’s frustrating to Naeole because, she says, a better option exists.

Naeole met Pahoa resident Todd Haworth and his wife, Cristie, who came to the island on a mission to serve the homeless.

Haworth told the Tribune-Herald this week that he was promised the units, for free, by HOPE Services for the nonprofit Trinity Fellowship International Pahoa Mission.

“We have 23 acres in Pahoa,” he said. Trees were cleared, sewer and electric plans readied and 250 coconut trees planted to satisfy the farming requirement to place residential units.

Haworth thought the housing units were going to be gifted to his group so he could immediately place them and let people start moving in. But HOPE Services says no promises were made.

“If there was a promise, it would have been in writing,” said HOPE Services volunteer coordinator Malu Debus.

HOPE Services CEO Brandee Menino said feedback from a community meeting called for immediate removal of the weathered, unsightly structures.

A request for proposals asked for developers willing to renovate the 21 units. But they told HOPE Services it will be cheaper to build new ones. So, the organization’s board decided to sell the structures in bulk — all 21 units as a package deal with a starting bid of at least $10,000.

The buyer must move them by Saturday, April 29.

Mayor Harry Kim met with Haworth and Naeole this week.

Kim said he listened to Haworth explain how to make the housing units in Pahoa habitable.

“I was very impressed with his knowledge of what needs to be done,” Kim said.

You can’t just plop the units down, he said, but must instead plan and set up sewer connections, water supplies, electricity, etc.

Kim said homelessness is “a massive problem that we’ve all got to work on.” He said he appreciated that Haworth and HOPE Services want to help the homeless.

Kim verified the structures never were Hawaii County property. So, the buildings can indeed be sold.

Menino said HOPE Services leased a separate 14.5-acre agricultural lot from the Catholic Diocese that can be used to build affordable housing. Once HOPE Services builds there, residents will pay no more than 30 percent of their income. There’s already a site plan and building permits, and “we’ve raised nearly $400,000,” Menino said.

HOPE Services is concentrating on selling the unused structures. After that, community input will be sought.

That’s because “Pahoa is really different from when we started this project six years ago,” Menino said.

Cristie Haworth said she and her husband are considering placing a bid for the 21 structures. They plan to build a home of their own, and if they are unsuccessful getting the 21 units, they still plan to find another way to build homes for homeless residents.

The online-only auction’s website for the 21 structures is set to go live at midnight Saturday, March 11. The auction will close at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 18. Those who would like to bid can find the website link at www.facebook.com/HOPEServicesHawaii/.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.