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Sunday, June 7, 2020
Amemiya Joins Pack of Insiders Grabbing ‘Affordable’ Housing Units for Themselves
By Andrew Walden @ 3:57 AM :: 17665 Views :: Honolulu County, Ethics, Development

by Andrew Walden

Honolulu Mayoral Candidate Keith Amemiya knows a lot about the ‘affordable’ housing system and how to ‘work’ it, but one of his opponents, Choon James, is not impressed.

At the May 27, 2020 on-line mayoral candidate forum, James told listeners, “Look at 801 South Street unit 4511…. Residents had to compete with (the) rich (including) some Caldwell management people’s investments.…  We must do a better job to ensure those who really need the affordable housing get the units.”

James did not mention it directly, but unit 4511 was purchased by Keith and Bonny Amemiya from the developer on July 1, 2015 for $375,300.  The unit and accompanying parking stall are now assessed at $579,800--a $204,500 increase.  The Amemiyas already own a Nuuanu home and Keith Amemiya is a senior vice president of Island Holdings Inc--not exactly the target buyer for affordable units.

The Amemiyas were not alone.  At 801 South Street, insiders exploited complex and shifting ‘designed-to-fail’ affordable housing rules to legally grab cheap units for themselves and rake in big bucks from equity growth.

Civil Beat, May 31, 2017, reports:

Many (units) are owned by well-connected individuals. Honolulu Managing Director Roy Amemiya helped his son purchase an income-qualified condo.  (NOTE: Keith is Roy’s cousin. This is a different Amemiya.)  John Waiheʻe IV, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee and son of former Gov. John Waiheʻe, also bought a workforce unit.

Gary Kurokawa, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s chief of staff, and Tracy Kubota, deputy director of the Department of Enterprise Services, together invested in a unit that didn’t have an income restriction. Another unit that didn’t have any restrictions went to Colbert Matsumoto, chairman of Tradewind Capital Group, one of the project’s funders.

Among the buyers who recently resold their units is Bill Wilson, chairman of the board of Hawaiian Dredging Construction Company. He bought a non-restricted unit and resold it for a $92,400 gain, explaining that his family situation changed….

With high demand from genuine affordable unit buyers, the developer held a lottery to select those who would be allowed to buy.  But about 100 of the designed-to-fail lottery winners were unable to close within 60 days. 

Instead of going back to the original pool of lottery applicants to find more income-qualified buyers, the rules then allowed the developer to sell to anybody regardless of qualification. 

It is the ability to write in a loophole like that and then exploit it that makes insiders into the insiders that they are. 

And it gets deeper.

Instead of allowing the general public to buy, the reopened sales were conducted on the ‘friends and family plan.’  As Civil Beat explained:

After the 60-day window closed, Downtown Capital held another lottery, this time to sell units to friends and relatives of employees of companies that participated in the project.

Keith Amemiya declined comment for this article.


VIDEO: Choon James at 51:30 Mark

PDF: Amemiya Deed

CB: Is It Fair To Profit From Reselling Affordable Housing?

Related: Ethics complaint: HCDA Falsifies Kakaako Workforce Housing Affordability Formulas


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