Building futures for Hawai‘i’s homeless families

Duane Kurisu and Corbett Kalama

Duane Kurisu (BBA '76, MBA '80) and Corbett Kalama shared their memories and the experiences of growing up in Hawai‘i that shaped their vision for a ground-breaking public/private partnership supporting local homeless families called Kahauiki Village.

As two of the driving forces behind Kahauiki Village, Kurisu and Kalama were the featured speakers for this year’s 2nd annual Flores Real Estate Lecture Series. The duo presented an in-depth and behind-the-scenes look at the vision and creation of Kahauiki - from their personal stories, to the technical aspects of planning and permitting, to the many successes, challenges, and epiphanies experienced along the way. They also offered heart-warming tales of the countless volunteers who put their soul into building a safe, and welcoming community for Hawai‘i’s homeless families.

Over 250 people attended the Flores Real Estate Lecture held on April 26, 2018 at the Waialae Country Club. The conversation was moderated by Hawaii Business Magazine Editor Steven Petranik. Here are excerpts from that inspiring and informative conversation with Kurisu and Kalama.

Excerpts from the Flores Real Estate Lecture featuring Duane Kurisu and Corbett Kalama

Living with dignity…

Duane: “When I started meeting girls in high school and they asked me where I lived, I used to say Hakalau [on the Big Island] and I’d feel a tinge inside. I really didn’t know what it was until later in life. I realized I was ashamed. But when I went home, we all lived with dignity. I don’t remember one friend’s house where things weren’t tidy. The floors were mopped clean...That is the core for how we are building Kahauiki Village. We’re starting with 30 homes. Eventually it will be 153 homes. But with the first 30 families, we need to help build this sense of community before we expand.”

A stable environment...

Corbett: “What Duane is focusing on is providing a stable place, a happy place, for these youngsters to be raised in. One of the things growing up for me was the fact that we had great landlords that never kicked my family out of their home, but it was always an anxiety for me… With Kahauiki Village, we provide a stable environment. A preschool on campus. Work force development for the mother or the parents that are there. Providing a place for the students to come home every day knowing

A public/private partnership...

Duane: “It involves the State of Hawai‘i, the City and our 501c3. So the State owns the land. They turned over jurisdiction of the land to the City, and our nonprofit foundation leases the property – 11 acres for a $1 year. The Governor issued an emergency proclamation so we technically don’t need any permits to build this, but in real life we had to get permits…We started and finished the project in six months and one day. The whole thing was design build. So we got the building permit the afternoon that the families moved in. Just in time.”

It’s about families with children…

Duane: “This is what really drove a lot of the contractors and engineers who did all of this work pro bono totaling millions of dollars in donated time and materials. The core was, we’re doing this for children. We do not want another generation of homelessness…We were steadfast in not being pushed to build this somewhere else because, initially, we found jobs within walking distance to this property. Every household has to have at least one adult that works. It’s a requirement.”

A great deal of promise…

Corbett: “I know what it feels like to go to bed hungry. I know what it feels like to listen to your mother cry...It is that kind of emotion that surfaces when you get involved in a project like this because you want to make sure that you help build the infrastructure within these families. You’ve got four generations of homelessness. They’re just out there surviving. They’re not even dreaming about what’s next. When I look into the eyes of our constituencies out there in Kahauiki, I see a great deal of promise.”

A long-term commitment…

Corbett: “What makes Duane’s project so unique is that he is committed to the life cycle of these families. Too often we go there and we do a part of the project and then we go away. And they are trying to respond [to what we have done] but they don’t have support. So many of these families have been through that cycle a number of times.”

It takes a village…

Duane: “When I see clips of Kahauiki Village, I get teary eyed. It’s about the families. It’s about the children who were once homeless. But just as emotional for me are the people who put their all into bringing that vision into reality. They put in their all. They put their money, their resources and they put their soul into Kahauiki Village. So, Kahauiki Village is really the collective soul of so many people in this state who have stepped up to help those who are less fortunate than us."

Next generation of dreamers...

Corbett: “The neat thing is that we’ll get to see these youngsters that are growing up in Kahauiki Village tell their story. They’ll be in a room just like this and help those in the future. And we’ll rid ourselves of a generation of non-dreamers. We’ll have dreamers out there. You can just see it when you go on site.”

A video recording of the Flores Real Estate Lecture Series featuring Duane Kurisu and Corbett Kalama is available for viewing online in its entirety.

Kahauiki Village quick facts

  • 30 homes built. 123 more forthcoming. › Units are upgraded emergency homes from Tohoku, Japan.
  • Tesla batteries — First community in the world that is completely off the grid. › Every family must have one adult who works.
  • 2 bedroom — $900/mo.; 1 bedroom — $725/mo. Rent includes all utilities and child care.
  • Onsite convenience store, post office, child care and preschool, police rest station, management office, etc

 About the speakers

  • Duane Kurisu (BBA 1976, MBA 1980) is the visionary behind Kahauiki Village. He is the founder and chairman of aio, a family of businesses that provide products and services that promote Hawai‘i’s unique values, people and culture.
  • Corbett Kalama is vice president of real estate investments and community affairs for The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.

Article above was published in the Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the Shidler Business magazine.