St. Francis to ease Hawaii senior housing pinch

By Victoire Chochezi, RCAC public affairs specialist

Americans are living longer; the nation’s elderly population is increasing and Hawaii is not escaping the trend. There is a marked shortage of long-term care beds in Hawaii and a lack of affordable senior housing. The senior housing pinch is particularly a concern in Ewa Villages, on the island of Oahu.

The development will incorporate a health and wellness program ... offering residents individualized in-home services ...

In response to the shortage, St. Francis Development Corporation is building a residential community through its Limited Partnership, Franciscan Vistas Ewa, near the Ewa Historic District. Franciscan Vistas Ewa will include a 150-unit senior rental development for individuals 62 years and older. The development will incorporate a health and wellness program, “Stay Healthy at Home,” offering residents individualized in-home services, such as transportation, meal preparation, chore support and opportunities for live-in help on an as-needed, fee-for-service basis. A 5,000 sq. ft. community center, financed by a Weinberg Foundation grant, will house health, recreational, social and cultural activities and programs, such as aqua-aerobics, dance, arts and crafts, and gardening.

The project is 20 miles southwest of downtown Honolulu with churches, parks, shopping, schools, family services and medical facilities nearby. The property and surrounding area was used for sugar cane production from the late 1800s until only about 20 years ago when the plantations closed. “Workers were brought in from various areas, especially Asian countries, to work in the sugar cane fields. This led to Hawaii’s diverse population and melting pot culture. When workers retired, they were allowed to permanently stay in plantation housing. When the plantation closed, the city acquired the housing. Houses were renovated to their original specifications to retain their plantation era look and feel; it has become a historical site,” said Pamela Witty-Oakland, St. Francis Residential Care Community chief administrator. Today, Ewa Villages is still more than 50 percent Filipino.

"Affordable housing is
a pressing problem throughout Hawaii."

- Pamela Witty-Oakland

A 23-acre parcel was vacant and uncultivated, and St. Francis bought that land from the city and county of Honolulu. In addition to the affordable senior housing, St. Francis’ future plans include development of 72 townhomes and 70 single-family homes on the infill parcel.

“In the Ewa community, and Hawaii as a whole, the norm is to have multigenerational families in the home. Most families assume the care giver role as much and as long as they can until their resources are depleted, or the seniors must be institutionalized. St. Francis’ goal is to minimize the burden on the state and the families, and to keep people living independently for as long as they can,” Witty-Oakland said.

RCAC made a $2 million predevelopment loan to Franciscan Vistas Ewa, LP and St. Francis Development Corporation. In addition to the RCAC loan, the project has been awarded federal and state tax credits, State Rental Housing Trust Funds, Hula Mae Mortgage Revenue Bonds and CDBG and HOME funding. Construction closing is anticipated in November 2009 with project completion estimated in late 2010.

“Affordable housing is a pressing problem throughout Hawaii. It is a number one concern throughout the state,” Witty-Oakland said.

The Consolidated Plan has designated all homeless and very low-income renter households as the housing priority for new construction or acquisition activities. A primary goal is to develop 362 affordable rental housing units specifically for seniors or persons with special needs.

“St. Francis’ Franciscan Vistas Ewa senior apartments is a step forward in fulfilling a need for affordable senior housing in one of the most expensive housing markets in the nation,” said Denise Boswell, RCAC housing specialist. Boswell also served as the loan officer for this project.

Despite the economic crunch, RCAC has recently received new lending capital and continues to accept new applications for affordable housing, community facilities and water/wastewater systems.

Visit the RCAC loan fund page to find out more about RCAC Loan Fund products.

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