November 30, 2021 | Source: Star Advertiser

Puuhonua o Waianae completes first, prototype house to help residents relocate from nearby harbor

Until recently Matt Tabag- Kalua lived in a tent on state land at Waianae Small Boat Harbor, alongside 200 other residents of Puuhonua o Waianae Houseless Makai Village.

Now his family of six inhabits a trailer in upper Waianae Valley, on 20 acres owned by Dynamic Community Solutions, Puuhonua o Waianae’s nonprofit arm, which purchased the designated agricultural land for $1.4 million cash last year in order to develop a tiny home community and a working farm.

While the trailer, left behind by the previous owners, is temporary, it’s better than a tent. “When it’s raining I still catch myself at night going outside to make sure the roof won’t collapse — and then I realize I’m here, I have a solid roof, I can relax.” Tabag-Kalua said during a recent village planning meeting on the land.

The goal is for all Puuhonua o Waianae members to have a permanent, solid roof over their heads, said Twinkle Borge, founder and leader of the self- governing community, who pointed with pride to where finishing touches were being put on a newly erected prototype home.

Built by a team of volunteers including Tabag-Kalua, a machine operator by trade, and led by James Pakele, president of Dynamic Community Solutions, the graceful duplex — twin A-frame hale connected by a shared deck — resembles a tall-masted sailing canoe on the slope of a hill.

“It resembles an old-style Hawaiian hale but with new materials, including HardiBoard siding with cement fiber, and 6-inch-thick insulation from the roof all the way down the sides, so a lot of times it’s actually cooler inside the unit than outside,” Pakele said.

Landownership and development of tiny homes is an enormous step up for this community of people whose “houseless” encampment in 2018 prompted an eviction notice from the state. Among others, Borge said she wished to thank Gov. David Ige for allowing the village to remain in place while the transition to the new site is underway.

The big-picture plan, Borge said, is to build 90 duplexes, for a total of 180 homes, arranged in five clusters with communal bathrooms and kitchens, and one central hale halawai, or gathering hall, for the entire community; the development would be able to house 250 people, the average pre-pandemic population of Puuhonua o Waianae. The count has dropped to about 200 since the pandemic began, she added.

The goal is to complete the first housing cluster by the end of the first quarter of 2022, said James Koshiba of the nonprofit Hui Aloha, a longtime volunteer in helping the makai village meet its needs. “There’ve been supply chain issues because of COVID, making it hard to get materials — and more expensive — but that’s still our goal,” he said.

About half of the land, Borge said, will be dedicated to farming, with guidance from agroforestry expert Michael Thomas in cultivating including ulu (breadfruit), banana, papaya, mango and other crops to feed the people of the village and other residents of the Waianae Coast who are hungry.

In addition to designing and building the prototype hale, perhaps the biggest step so far, Koshiba said, has been the clearing of the land, taking down a forest of invasive kiawe trees and removing piles of trash.

“Twinkle, Matt and others spent a good nine months clearing out trash left by the previous owner,” he said. “A lot of work has gone into healing the land.”

Tabag-Kalua said, “One of the neighbors, who lived here 16 years, said he hasn’t seen the ocean until now, because we cleared.”

“Now we can see our home, see our makai,” Borge said with emotion, adding she hoped the beautiful ocean view, which includes the current village location at Waianae Small Boat Harbor to the west, would provide a sense of connection and achievement once the villagers have moved mauka, because “they can always reflect on that’s where we came from.”

Now with the prototype standing, land cleared and ulu plants growing, Borge said, she and her community section captains will bring residents of the makai village so they can see and be inspired to participate in the next phase.

This was crucial because “as far as construction, a lot of the structures will be self-built — we want our people to build it,” Borge said, noting training and direction from Pakele’s construction crew and Jake Johnson and other volunteers from project partner HomeAid Hawaii, which collaborated with residents to produce the hale design.

“Jake’s been giving up his Saturdays, teaching our people how to build it,” Pakele said. “We want the hale to be self-built, and properly.”

Borge said it’s crucial that the entire village community be engaged in building their new homes, not only to keep construction costs down, but in order to promote commitment, bonding and personal healing and self- esteem. In time residents will also be expected to pay $250 monthly rent for their unit, and work cooperatively to maintain communal areas and help grow and prepare their food.

“The first time I came up, saw the land, that was beautiful — peaceful,” said Emma Mae Kaheolani Meacham, a community section captain, adding she hoped her neighbors would ultimately feel the same way.

She said she, Borge and the other captains had been meeting with residents weekly to keep them apprised of developments and prepare them to move from makai to mauka in stages as each cluster of hale is completed.

Eventually, according to a plan achieved by community consensus over time, all residents of the makai village would relocate to the mauka farm village after removing their possessions from the boat harbor location and cleaning it up.

Still, several have expressed uncertainty and reluctance. “I think some of them is still stunned, some still scared to move,” Borge said, noting resistance to change is normal human nature.

Meacham said she’s confident things will work out. “We’ve been taking care of things down there at the village, getting it cleaned up so we can move out and up here,” she said. “By the time everything’s ready up there, we’ll be ready,” she said.

According to the organization’s website, two-thirds of some 200 current members of the community are Native Hawaiian, and many are natives of Waianae.

“Residents of Puuhonua o Waianae call themselves houseless, not homeless, because Hawaii is their home,” the website says.

In addition to thanking city and state agencies that have assisted Puuhonua o Waianae in its various efforts, Borges expressed gratitude for the planning, permitting, design and building expertise contributed by Hui Aloha, project partners HomeAid Hawaii and G70, and the donation of a backhoe from Alexander & Baldwin, and the project’s many funders and volunteers.

Also living on the mauka property is Stevie Urrutia, the village educator, who has been helping Tabag-Kalua’s four children with after- school and, at times, remote learning while continuing to work with keiki residents of the makai village.

“We’re working on finding unconventional learning opportunities, teaching the basics of construction and growing crops, being stewards of the land, learning about leadership and problem-solving,” Urrutia said, adding, “Up here the kids get to thrive.”

The next fundraising priority was for a sewer connection, Pakele said; the mauka site is hooked up to the electrical grid and public water supply but needs a wastewater pipe to run down and hook up to the city line.

There were still millions left to raise, Borge said, but they had come this far and the view from the inland site is beautiful.

More information about Puuhonua o Waianae is available online at

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