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Working families land brand new ocean-view condominiums

40-unit Kalama Kai project blessed in Kihei

Vene Chun of the Kimokeo Foundation (right) sprinkles water Monday morning on the buyers of Kalama Kai, an affordable housing project just steps from the beach in Kihei. The Armstrong Development project features 39 three-bedroom units and one one-bedroom unit; 35 of the units are affordable. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photos

KIHEI — When Rodrigo Botta and Carolina Carabetti first passed by the Kalama Kai housing project in Kihei, they thought the brand-new condos just steps from the beach would cost around $1 million.

They were stunned to discover the affordable units were selling for under $500,000.

“We were just like, ‘We can try. We can afford it,’ “ Carabetti said.

On Monday morning, new buyers like Botta and Carabetti gathered for a blessing of the new workforce housing complex, which features 39 units with three bedrooms and two bathrooms and one unit with one bedroom and one bath. Most of the units have ocean views, and the complex as a whole is about 200 feet from the beach. Thirty-five of the units are affordable and five are market rate.

“This is exactly what we need. This is affordable housing for our workforce,” Maui County Managing Director Sandy Baz said. “It’s an infill project close to all of our resources here. We have shopping, of course the wonderful beach across the street here. But it’s really a development that we’d like to model in the future.”

Two-year-old Lilly Botta plays at the pool’s edge while her parents Rodrigo Botta and Carolina Carabetti chat with their new neighbors in Kalama Kai.

Kalama Kai’s three-bedroom units are 844 square feet and include an open concept living and dining area as well as a 63-square-foot lanai. The one-bedroom unit is 560 square feet.

Built by Armstrong Development, the housing complex at 45 Kanani Road also includes a recreation area with a swimming pool and barbecue area. Solar panels top the carports, covering 75 to possibly over 90 percent of the project’s power needs, Armstrong Cos. President Bob Armstrong said. The parking lot also features six electric vehicle chargers.

Armstrong said the complex likely would end up housing “anywhere from 110 to 140 people,” and that the developer would be turning the keys over to the buyers “very shortly,” likely this week.

Efforts to build the project started about four or five years ago, and Armstrong said one of the biggest challenges was finding people who were qualified. The housing was open to people earning 80 to 140 percent of the area median income (In 2015, that would have been $60,080 to $105,140). But they also had to meet a number of requirements — such as not having owned real estate within the past three years and having a certain amount of savings — that Armstrong said disqualified a lot of people.

At a certain point, the project starts to “time out,” which means that if it was supposed to be sold to those earning 80 percent area median income, it can now be sold to someone who makes 100 percent of the area median income, and so on until it reaches a point where developers can sell it at market rates.

Most of the units at Kalama Kai have views of the ocean. Developers, buyers and county officials touted the project’s proximity to the beach, restaurants and stores.

“A workforce housing project like this, you only have to keep it on the market for so long before you can start selling to the open market,” Armstrong said. “But we were getting so many people that were working around here and getting so much encouragement from them that we decided to just keep hanging in there and sell as many of these to workforce housing qualifiers as possible.”

The project was not fast tracked, but even so, it was completed in a remarkably short time, county officials said.

“To those of us on the council, this is close to breakneck speed,” said council Chairwoman Kelly King, who holds the South Maui residency seat. “We have people who just got their permits after waiting 11 years, so for five years to have move in? Give another hand to these folks.”

Many of the buyers were young couples or families like Botta and Carabetti.

“For seven years, we’ve been renting the same house up in Maui Meadows, and we’re just growing our business and trying to invest for the future, think about the little one and make sure she has a comfortable life,” Botta said of their 2-year-old daughter Lilly. “This is a great way to invest. . . . We could not afford it anywhere else if it wasn’t for this program.”

Soon-to-be Kalama Kai residents Carolyn Nuyen (left) and family friend Angel Mahaulu admire the ocean view from the balcony of a third-floor unit at Kalama Kai on Monday morning.

The couple owns an business that rents out furniture for events. They said they’d never even talked about buying their own place until they saw Kalama Kai. Their three-bedroom unit totaled $450,000, “a fantastic price,” Botta said.

For partners and Grand Wailea employees Jonathan Ludwig and Prestan Garma, the housing complex is within reasonable driving distance to work, and perfectly situated near the beach.

When asked if the current place they’re renting in Kihei was affordable, Ludwig said “barely.”

“This is going to be about the same cost, but it will be ours,” he said. “I think it came out so much prettier than I thought it was going to be. I’m just excited. I just can’t wait to get everything all moved in.”

Kyle Yanagisako and Elisabeth Weiss were preparing to move from their aging condo complex in Wailuku to Kalama Kai.

“I wouldn’t say it’s affordable,” Yanagisako said of their Wailuku home. “It’s doable for the price. But with this, it’s a lot better value for what you’re paying, so it made a lot of sense. And it’s brand new, and it’s ocean view, and it’s pet friendly, and there’s A/C.”

The couple said they work at the Westin Kaanapali Ocean Resort Villas but that for now, the drive was worth it.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.