East Hawaii News

Successful Kaua‘i nonprofit now working on first affordable housing project on Big Island

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For about a year, Jim Edmondsʻ Kauaʻi-based nonprofit was searching for the perfect property to develop its first affordable housing project on the Big island — and two months ago it was found in Pepeʻekeo.

The 5 .5-acre property on gently sloping land fronted by a stream has views of Hilo Bay and is next to Kula’imano County Park.

“After doing many projects and subdivisions, I have learned that if you listen to the land, it will tell you what it wants to do. This Pepe‘ekeo land spoke to us,” said the 78-year-old Edmonds, founder and executive director of PAL (Permanent, Affordable, Living) Kauaʻi.

PAL Kaua‘i plans to develop its first affordable housing project on the Big Island on a portion of the property at 28-2981 Kumula St. in Pepe‘ekeo. (Photo: PAL Kaua‘i)

The nonprofit, based in Anahola, Kaua‘i, went into escrow in March for the property at 28-2981 Kumula St., about 8 miles north of Hilo on the windward side of the island.

Edmonds said the property also was attractive because of its existing zoning for 69 home sites — with water, power and sewer connections available; its close proximity to Hilo’s services and jobs; it is near a bus stop; and it is in a neighborhood with existing affordable and senior housing.

And, the price is right.


The nonprofit is purchasing the land for $2.45 million, or a little more than $35,000 per home site.

The working plan for the property includes 70 affordable units:

  • 10 tiny homes for people transitioning from homelessness
  • 20 single-family homes ranging from two to four bedrooms that would be owned by the families
  • 40 two- and three-bedroom apartments, with some available for rent-to-own

In line with PAL Kaua‘i’s dedication to changing the paradigm of affordable housing, the goal is for all of its developments to include not just housing but all the primary components for affordable living, including food, utilities, transportation, wellness and health care, and sources of income.

The Big Island project, named Kauhale O Pepe‘ekeo, plans to provide community gardens, focusing on fostering greater food security that can be shared with the surrounding neighborhood, and shared electric vehicle programs that reduce traffic congestion and pollution. Off-site improvements to infrastructure, as required, will be made that also will benefit the neighborhood.

There is the possibility for business incubator and accelerator programs, after-school programs and financial literacy and life skills training through PAL Kaua‘i’s beyond housing program to uplift households through economic empowerment and training. The developer also intends to explore adding community meeting places to the project, as funding allows.


“Socially, our goal is to build projects that create positive experiences and opportunities for the entire community,” Edmonds said.

PAL Kaua‘i started its work in November 2018. Edmonds and founding board member Greg Crowe have been advocates of affordable housing for decades. Edmonds, who has lived in Hawai‘i nearly 50 years, including a couple of stints on the Big Island, also did three housing developments between 2002 and 2008 on the Hāmākua Coast.

During the past four and a half years, the nonprofit has completed or is working on several affordable housing developments on Kaua‘i. It also founded the Kaua‘i Affordable Housing Alliance, bringing together for-profit and nonprofit developers around the island to coordinate resources; advocate for efficiency and reduced burdens to development; and collaborate for a more expansive scope and impact.

The Pepe‘ekeo project would be PAL’s first on the Big Island.

“In my visits back to the island and discussions with friends over here, I began to be aware of how the homeless and housing crisis was growing,” Edmonds said. “Eventually, a friend of mine, Mary Blyth, who is a real estate agent with Equity Hawai‘i Real Estate in Hilo, began to discuss working together to find solutions.”


Due to the developer’s growth on Kaua‘i, in large part because of its relationships with Realtors who wanted to make a difference, it started looking about a year ago at potential developments on the Big Island. Eventually, Edmonds said, the intention is to develop projects islandwide.

PAL Kaua‘i is working with Blyth and her broker Darla Hartvigsen, who is also a Realtor with Equity Hawai‘i Real Estate and president of the Hawai‘i Island Board of Realtors. Together, they make up the PAL Big Island team.

“We are working to save the local families and work force who are being driven off the island as we write,” Edmonds said. “Everyone knows someone who has left or is planning to. If our entire work force leaves, who’s going to do the work? Together, we can solve this burgeoning crisis.”

The nonprofit has always intended to use the knowledge it is gaining on Kaua‘i to solve the housing crisis in Hawai‘i — and eventually throughout the nation — by sharing its mana‘o (idea/intention) and creating templates for affordable housing that can be adjusted to succeed anywhere.

It seems PAL Kaua‘i’s work and its new investment on the Big Island couldn’t come at a better time.

According to the 2019 Hawaiʻi Housing Planning Study, Hawaiʻi County needed to add 10,796 affordable housing units by 2025 to meet community needs. The University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization also said in its second-quarter 2023 economic forecast for the state that surging home prices and mortgage interest rates have made single-family homes in Hawai‘i more expensive, requiring twice the income it did a decade ago to purchase, due to a lack of new supply in part because of regulatory hurdles.

“It is estimated that 48% of all Americans are one pay check from financial disaster,” Edmonds said. “In Hawai‘i, it is worse than that.”

Funding for the Pepe‘ekeo project, like all of the nonprofit’s other developments on Kaua‘i, will come from a combination of grants, rents from its other units and income from home sales.

But at this young stage, the project is primarily funded by donations. PAL Kaua‘i is supported by public and private partnerships and has been successful in leveraging donations through its associations with Realtors and others who want to be part of the housing solution, Edmonds said.

Once the nonprofit developer secures the purchase of the land, it also intends to seek funding from other sources, including Hawai‘i County and the Hawai‘i Housing Finance Development Corp. So far, PAL Kaua‘i has put up $50,000 for a deposit and spent between $3,000 and $5,000 on administration and preparations costs.

The intent is to meet the needs of the community as quickly as possible, but estimating when the project could get underway and be completed is difficult before the architectural and engineering work, funding and other discretionary necessities are approved.

Edmonds said PAL Kaua‘i is encouraged by the support it is receiving from Hawai‘i County and is cautiously optimistic that ground can be broken on Kauhale O Pepe‘ekeo in three years.

“We cannot do this alone,” Edmonds said. “We need everyone who is able to step forward and help with this important project. If they can’t afford to help financially, then introduce us to anyone they know who can help. Tell everyone about it.”

For more information about the Pepe‘ekeo project, how to help or if you know anyone who could lend a hand, contact Big Island team members Blyth at 808-443-7877 or [email protected] or Hartvigsen at 808-319-9913 or [email protected]. You can also donate directly to the project by clicking here and selecting “PAL Big Island.”

For more information about PAL Kaua‘i, click here.

Nathan Christophel
Nathan Christophel is a full-time reporter with Pacific Media Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. He previously worked at the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in Hilo. Nathan can be reached at [email protected]
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