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Community Vision to Reality

Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae community members turn their vision into reality with a new development in the back of Wai‘anae Valley.

Community Vision to Reality

On a hot, Friday morning in Waiʻanae Valley, Rose Chung-Lono (Auntie Loke to her friends and family) is standing on a ladder, finishing up spackling the inside of a new A-frame, duplex home. The living space she’s in has a huge window, enough room for a love seat and a dresser, and up top is a loft for a queen bed. “It’s a demo unit—the first in a new housing development.”

Chung-Lono, a two-year resident of Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae Makai Village, says she’s been coming up to the site just about every weekday since construction started. “I do a lot of carpentry, I do fabrication,” she says. “But we all learn together by sharing our skills with each other. I teach the ladies how to use the power tools, and they teach me how to spackle and caulk.”

If you’ve heard of Pu‘uhonua O Wai‘anae, you know that the village of approximately 250 people living unhoused on the edge of the Wai‘anae Boat Harbor is a role model for other communities—housed or not. Here, everyone knows their neighbors, children are cared for, and everyone has shared kuleana. Now, the village is working to take its next big step: construction of an ‘ohana-style housing development called the Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae Farm Village.

Three years ago, the group completed fundraising with the support of nonprofit Hui Aloha and grants from a range of private sources, to buy a 20-acre piece of land in Wai‘anae Valley, two-and-a-half miles mauka from the boat harbor. The Pu‘uhonua team broke ground in October of 2022, and is now gearing up for construction on what will eventually be around 90 A-frame duplex homes (a total of 180 housing units that can house up to 300 people) centered around communal buildings with shared kitchens and bathrooms.

“Just to see everything come about is amazing,” says Twinkle Borge, the leader of Pu‘uhonua o Wai‘anae, as she looks out over the property. “I’m glad we’re moving forward, and I cannot wait to see it all done.”

Building the homes has been a collaborative effort, with a combination of volunteer work from Pu‘uhonua residents themselves, professional contractors, and pro bono work and materials from local companies who see the potential of this project to make a real difference. James Pakele, who is overseeing the project, says he’s been blown away by the generosity he’s seen. “For example, because we’re so far from the road, we thought we were going to have to install septic systems,” he says. “But G70 volunteered to do all the civil work to connect us to the city sewer system, pro bono. It was a major amount of work. And then Royal Contracting had a full crew on site here for months.”

Pakele says the long-term vision is to offset the cost of rent in the village by farming everything from taro to breadfruit to bananas to mango. “Money don’t grow on trees, but food does,” he says, with a laugh.

Michelle Ka‘uhane, the Hawai‘I Community Foundation’s senior vice president and chief impact officer, says Pu‘uhonua is a perfect example of how community-sourced solutions are often the best ones. “This is what leadership looks like: Lived experience that has the solutions to the countless challenges we’re trying to solve in Hawai‘i,” Ka‘uhane says. “Let’s embrace leadership, where it’s at.”

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