This rendering shows The Howard Hughes Corp.'s planned 988 Halekauwila project
This rendering shows The Howard Hughes Corp.’s planned 988 Halekauwila project

The Howard Hughes Corp. is not quite sure what its next step would be after a Hawaii agency unanimously struck down its request to move ahead with its previously approved Kakaako residential project at 988 Halekauwila as a rental project, the Texas-based developer told PBN.

However, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Community Development Authority told PBN Thursday that the developer’s lawyers indicated that they will file exceptions to their application, so the board will take final action on June 24.

On Wednesday, the HCDA, which has a new set of board members, voted to deny the developer’s request to change the Ward Village project from a mostly affordable for-sale project to a rental project.

Steven Scott, vice chair of the HCDA and owner of Scott Hawaii, told PBN Thursday that the developer should abide by its original permit, which includes building a tower with 424 for-sale units, including 375 reserved units.

The project’s development permit was set to expire on July 17, although the HCDA voted Wednesday to approve an extension for two years.

David Striph, senior vice president for Hawaii for The Howard Hughes Corp. (NYSE: HHC), told PBN in an email that an approval of the developer’s request would have extended the length of regulations keeping the units affordable to 15 years for tenants at 80 percent to 100 percent of area median income, compared to for-sale units that would only remain affordable for two to five years for buyers at 100 percent to 140 percent of area median income.

For a single person, the Honolulu area median income at 80 percent is $46,256, while it’s $57,820 at 100 percent and $80,948 at 140 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“This new board has stated their intention to listen to the voice of our community, and public testimony was overwhelmingly in support of approving the project for 15 years,” Striph said in an email to PBN. “We are disappointed the project was not approved because our community suffers when the delivery of much-needed affordable housing is slowed down or stopped.”

He noted that, in spite of this setback, Howard Hughes is dedicated to providing a wide range of housing in Honolulu for local residents.

“[We] look forward to exploring alternatives to satisfy our reserved housing requirements for Ward Village,” Striph said. “There is much greater need for affordable housing in Honolulu than there is for for-sale condominiums. Approximately five times the number of households on Oahu would have qualified to rent at 988 Halekauwila versus those that are qualified to buy.”

Under the HCDA’s old rules, projects could be utilized as rentals for a minimum of 15 years or longer. But in 2011, new rules came into effect that set the timer period for affordable rentals at a fixed 15 years.

“Under the Howard Hughes plan that it inherited from [General Growth Properties Inc.], it’s a minimum of 15 years,” Scott said. “Then when they went to get their permit in April 2013 for Waiea and Anaha, they said they would be building 375 reserved units for sale at 988 Halekauwila. That would satisfy their affordable requirements.”

Then in January, Howard Hughes said it wanted to make the change from a for-sale to a rental project for 15 years.

“The previous board had put out a study in March, which recommended that if it is a rental project, it should be for 30 years, and that the area median income percentage should be reduced from 140 percent to 120 percent,” Scott said. “When this proposal came to us on April 1, the sentiment was that 15 years is too short. In terms of affordable housing, it should be longer, and in 15 years, they could turn around and sell those units at fair market value, turning it from a co-op to a condo.”

In February, Howard Hughes officially requested the ability to proceed with its 988 Halekauwila project, which will be built across from Sports Authority on Ward Avenue, as a rental development.

The developer previously told PBN that if the request was approved, it would in no way impact the number of reserved housing units — 375 — provided at 988 Halekauwila, which represent three times the number of units required for phase one of Ward Village.

The project, which is being planned on what is the former site of the Kanpai Bar & Grill and the current California Rock ‘N Sushi, is part of the developer’s first phase of its 60-acre Ward Village master plan.

Scott told PBN that under the current rules, Howard Hughes can’t move people into its Waiea and Anaha luxury condos, which are also part of phase one, until it puts financial assurance that it will build 988 Halekauwila, or starts construction on the project.
Duane Shimogawa
Pacific Business News