An affordable housing complex in Lahaina, Maui

Kaiāulu o Kupuohi, a 89-unit mid-rise complex in Lāhainā, Maui, was developed to provide quality affordable housing to native Hawaiians and the local workforce. The five-story building, which opened Dec. 6, 2022, utilized Low-Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and qualified residents who earn up to 60% of the area median income, notched at $48,660 for a single person and $69,480 for a family of four. The rent is to remain affordable for 50 years, which highlights the importance of durability measures.

Local residents endured a lengthy waitlist and lottery for an opportunity to live at Kupuohi. For many, it was the first place they’d ever been able to rent. Less than nine months later, Kaiāulu o Kupuohi was destroyed in the Lāhainā fire. Now, residents are forced to wait for permanent housing once more.

Kupuohi demonstrates that not only is providing legitimate affordable housing for native Hawaiians possible, but the housing can be of quality. Kupuohi residents enjoyed a community center, on-site management, a tot lot, a BBQ-picnic area, laundry facilities, on-site vehicle and bicycle parking, as well as ocean views for some units. According to the REALTORS® Association of Maui, the average home in Maui in 2023 was $1.15 million.

Many residents work in low-wage service jobs, and the financial strain is especially significant for Hawaii’s Indigenous people. Hawaii residents are spending on average 42.06% of their income on rent, which is the highest of any state, according to a Forbes Home analysis. Kupuohi was one of the few places on Maui that a local family could reasonably afford to rent.

Kupuohi’s Features

Designed with comfort, conservation, and durability in mind, the Kupuohi buildings were certified Gold under LEED v4 BD+C Mulitifamily Midrise and recognized for being equipped with Energy Star appliances, hard-surface flooring, solar hot water heating, high efficiency cooling, water-wise plumbing fixtures, and Energy Star ceiling fans. A bus stop was recently added to incorporate the walkable site within its route, connecting residents to an abundance of Lāhainā’s community resources and adding more sustainable transportation to local schools.

Affordable housing developments like Kupuohi are intended to provide stability and an elevated standard of living for communities. Not only do they allow for community preservation, but they help create thriving communities. Kupuohi is no longer, and there is a dire need to replace and build others like it.

Attendees at the affordable housing opening event ine a community room

Moving Forward

Developers Ikaika Ohana, known also as UHC LLC outside of Hawaii, are currently working to help families displaced at Kupuohi with their critical needs. They are strategizing to rebuild and concurrently applying their focus to swiftly complete a second project in Lāhainā, called Kaiāulu o Kūku‘ia, which was under construction and suffered minimal damage from the fire.

The Kūku‘ia project is a 200-unit affordable multi-family housing property that will contend with an even more critical housing crisis. The project was originally scheduled to open October 2024, but the Ikaika team is working to overcome obstacles more efficiently and will need to partner with Maui County to provide occupancy on time. Ikaika’s intent is to house displaced Maui residents as soon as possible, including former Kupuohi tenants.

Ikaika Ohana has also been building sustainable, affordable housing in nearby Kihei and on O’ahu and Hawai’i Islands, scheduled to open in 2023 and 2024. These projects intend to provide similar availability to native Hawaiians as well as a focus on quality, environmentally conscious housing, through LEED Certification, that contributes to a stable standard of living for residents.

Ikaika’s continued investment in affordable housing projects in Hawaii is commendable and should serve as a model for how to build equity-conscious, sustainable housing in regions of need. VCA Green is proud to be partnered with Ikaika Ohana in their commitment to rebuild Maui and prioritization of sustainable housing for Hawaiians.

Contributing Writer: George Cortez, Assistant Project Manager

This article also appeared on USGBC’s website.