A year after construction wrapped up, red tape keeps city’s $17M housing project for the homeless empty

The city admits it doesn’t know when the Homeless Resource Center will open.
Published: Jan. 17, 2023 at 3:14 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 18, 2023 at 2:38 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly a year after construction wrapped up on a $17 million homeless housing project in Iwilei, no one’s moved in. Meanwhile, a row of makeshift shelters line the sidewalk outside.

And the city admits it doesn’t know when the Homeless Resource Center will open.

Delays were initially blamed on failed negotiations with the operator picked to run the place. But problems turned out to be much more complicated.

Officials say it goes back to decisions that were made during the Caldwell Administration.

In order to build the Homeless Resource Center, money was pooled from multiple sources ― such as the city’s general fund, federal funding and bond money to name a few.

City officials say it’s those bonds and the rules associated with them that brought this project to a halt.

Meanwhile, the need for homeless resources on Oahu is enormous.

‘It’s just sitting there’

Along Fort Street Mall, outside the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, trouble’s constantly lurking.

“Every single day, I find drug users,” said John Fielding, the church’s volunteer safety minister. “Fights, we’ve had people with knives.”

He says the neighborhood has long been overrun with homeless people ― many of whom are in need of mental health and drug treatment services.

Fielding said, “A lot of seniors are very scared about what’s happening here.”

He’d hoped the Homeless Resource Center, built just a mile down the road, would be open by now to play a part in solving some of the problems here.

“But it’s for not,” said Fielding. “It’s just sitting there.”

Locked away, behind a fence at the corner of Sumner Street and Iwilei Roard are 27 brand new low-income apartments, several large spaces intended for a homeless shelter and a world-class kitchen.

Next month will mark one year since construction on the $17 million project was finished.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Months after completion, homeless resource center with 27 apartments sits empty

“We’re very motivated to really get that building activated,” said Anton Krucky, director of the city’s Community Services Department, “The problem we have is what I call the color of money.

“What that means is there are different types of money that were used to construct that building. And those types of money have rules to them? And in particular the bond money.”

He says the rules associated with those bonds require a portion of the building to be affordable housing.

That means the city needs to find an entity to manage the units.

Krucky says the city has tried to partner with a long list of groups but so far every deal has fallen apart. When asked how many proposals haven’t worked out, Krucky responded, “I like to laugh about it when I say seven, eight.”

The latest potential partner is the state. But there’s no guarantee that will work, either.

‘There is an emergency’

“Those rules are complicated,” Krucky said.

“And it’s hard to get a written scenario that satisfies the rules that will last over time. If we jump too soon and don’t do it correctly, then later we’ll have some real problems that will be hard to unravel.”

HNN asked Krucky if he thought more could have been done by the previous administration to alleviate the current situation. “I really don’t know,” Krucky responded. “I’m just trying to make sure we get this straight, our legal counsel buys off on it, then we can negotiate a deal with the state and get this done.”

Back on Fort Street Mall, parishioners are desperate for relief.

“There is an emergency,” Fielding said.

He says he’ll continue to do what he can to try and manage the crisis outside their door.

“The sad thing is we need resources. And we’re not using the resources,” he said.

HNN asked the city what expenses are being incurred while the building sits empty. Officials couldn’t give us an exact figure only, saying it’s not a large number. There’s also no timeline for opening the center.