Kauhale Initiative

State of Hawaiʻi Kauhale Initiative

Meaning: According to the Hawaiian Dictionary, the word Kauhale translates to: loc.n., Group of houses comprising a Hawaiian home, formerly consisting of men’s eating house, women’s eating house, sleeping house, cook-house, canoe house, etc. Term was later used even if the home included but a single house, and is sometimes used for hamlet or settlement. It is used without an article. (Gram. 8.6.) Literally, plural house. (Hawaiian Dictionary : Hawaiian-English, English-Hawaiian / Mary Kawena Pukui, Samuel H. Elbert. Rev. and enl. ed, University of Hawaii Press, 1986.)

Purpose: To create deeply affordable spaces for housing and healing our people, through intentional ‘kauhale’ design and operation.

Concept: Kauhale are communal living spaces, with modest housing units for individual households, and shared space for cooking and eating, recreation, growing food or engaging in industrious activities together.  Though often envisioned as prefabricated homes, or other modest, low-cost housing units, a Kauhale could also be created in an existing apartment, dormitory, or office building, so long as there is communal space and an investment in building communal responsibility.

The defining feature of a Kauhale is that it functions like a village, with people taking care of place and each other.  Our goal is to establish 12 Kauhale projects over the next three years, with 6 on Oʻahu, and 2 in each of Hawaiʻi, Maui, and Kauaʻi Counties. However, the actual location of Kauhale will depend heavily upon where land is available, and the presence of strong community partners, willing to lead the creation and operation of each village.

Construction costs for Kauhale will vary widely depending on design decisions, site conditions, and infrastructure needs of each property.  Operating costs for a Kauhale may initially be comparable to the operating costs for transitional housing projects of a similar size, but the goal is to reduce operating costs over time, as residents build capacity to assume greater responsibility for various aspects of village operations such as security, maintenance, and improvement projects.

Every Kauhale will be a partnership between government and community with State funding used to empower community champions and to fill resource gaps. The Kauhale Initiative was first inspired by community-based efforts like Puʻuhonua O Waianae and Hui Mahiai Āina.

Deeply Affordable Housing: A Kauhale will provide housing units similar to what is called “opportunity housing” or “bridge housing” in other places.  Kauhale are intended to be a deeply affordable home for as long as a person needs it, free of time-limited expectations for when residents will “graduate” to market-rate housing. Our goal is to create communities, where monthly rents are approximately $500 per household per month or 30% of a household’s income.

Hawaiʻi has one of the most expensive state-wide housing markets in the county, and many people may not be able to increase their incomes enough to afford what the market has to offer. Village living can aid in meeting the goal of offering deeply affordable housing with communal baths and kitchens that reduce development costs, and a sense of communal responsibility that can reduce operating costs for things like security and repair and maintenance.  Keeping operating costs low ensures that rents can be kept affordable for Kauhale residents.

Construction costs for Kauhale will vary widely depending on the design and infrastructure needs of the property. As noted, a Kauhale could be created in existing buildings, as a new-build cluster of tiny homes, or many other settings. While costs will vary, the Administration aims for an average capital cost of $2.5 million for a 50-unit Kauhale project that can house up to 75 people. At $50,000 per unit, this target cost is far below the typical per-unit cost of housing development.

Healing & Purpose: Bringing people “home” is about much more than putting a roof over people’s heads.  It is also about fostering belonging and responsibility. Unlike a typical shelter, navigation, or transitional programs, the role of a ‘service provider’ in a Kauhale will be to provide supportive services and to foster communal ownership, roles, and responsibilities among residents – equipping them to take care of their place and each other over time, and reducing dependence on formal programs.  This could mean helping residents establish their own neighborhood watch for security; creating their own support groups for trauma and addiction; or tending to garden areas where residents grow their own food.  Guided by the belief, first articulated by Twinkle Borge, that “kuleana wakes up mana,” (responsibility wakes the spirit) every Kauhale will aspire to build a sense of shared responsibility, and offer meaningful roles for each resident.

A Community Within a Community: Community partners are key to the success of any Kauhale, because such partners know the needs and strengths of their neighborhoods best, and can build relationships among Kauhale residents and the wider community. Each Kauhale will be created through collaboration between the State, Counties, and community entities, and will include the participation of unhoused people whenever possible. For example, a County government may have usable land, private donors may be willing to fund construction, and the State may contract with a community organization to operate a village. Or, a faith-based organization may have land and be willing to operate a Kauhale, but needs help from the County for infrastructure, and from the State to pay for vertical construction. State funding will be used to empower communities and fill gaps, rather than the State bearing the full burden and cost of Kauhale decisions, construction, and operations.

In 2023, the Hawaii State Legislature appropriated funds to support Kauhale for the first time. Since then, many community champions – faith-based groups, nonprofit organizations, grassroots groups, and even private landowners – have stepped forward to propose Kauhale. Click on this link to view a copy of the Kauhale Criteria DRAFT2.