Hawaiian Affordable Community Wins National Award

Vitus Group, an affordable housing developer, has announced that their affordable housing community Banyan Street Manor has received an honorable mention in the Public Housing category of the Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Awards.

Kalihi, Hawaii—Vitus Group, an affordable housing developer, has announced that their affordable housing community Banyan Street Manor has received an honorable mention in the Public Housing category of the Charles L. Edson Tax Credit Excellence Awards, an annual award honoring the nation’s low-income housing tax credit properties.

The community, which is located in Kalihi, Hawaii, is a four-story building that contains 55 units—12 one-bedroom units and 43 two-bedroom units. Banyan Street Manor was originally built in 1976. In 2011, Vitus Group bought the property for $8.5 million, and has since invested more than $3.1 million in improvements.

Banyan Street Manor’s improvements include upgraded finishes, including solid-wood kitchen cabinets, granite countertops, vinyl plank flooring and Energy Star appliances. The common area was also update, including a new site manager’s office and laundry facilities. Additionally there is a secure children’s play area that doubles as a loading zone, which has synthetic grass, chalkboard walls and a basketball hoop.

Green features were also added to the building, including Hawaii’s largest vertical green wall. This wall, which is covered in vegetation, helps reduce the building temperature by up to 10 degrees.

“As with our other properties in Hawaii, Vitus renovated the units using Energy Star appliances to reduce energy demand, low and No VOC paints and formaldehyde free cabinetry to improve the indoor air quality, Louvered windows for natural ventilation and low flow plumbing fixtures to reduce water waste,” Makani Maeva, director of Vitus Group’s Hawaii office, tells MHN. “On the exteriors we installed Photovoltaic panels to produce electricity and solar hot water systems, both of which reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. A light colored roof reflects sunlight and together with two living walls reduces the internal building temperature. The 740sf living walls are the largest in the State of Hawaii and are planted with low maintenance tropical plants.”

Banyan Street Manor also includes the first U.S. Department of Agriculture certified organic rooftop farm on an affordable property. Of the produce produced, which includes tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, green beans and strawberries, as well as many additional crops, 40 percent will be given to residents for free, and the rest will be sold in local groceries to offset the cost. The community has partnered with 1st Look Exteriors to manage the farm.

“Organic rooftop farms are a good fit for any community but especially for affordable housing residents in the islands,” Maeva says. “A family of four at Banyan is typically making less than $62,000 a year. Everything that comes to Hawaii comes by airplane or boat, groceries included so the cost to ship food across the ocean can make the grocery bill in Hawaii up to 66 percent higher than that of a family on the mainland. Residents of affordable housing feel this problem acutely. By taking advantage of underutilized roof space, Banyan’s rooftop farm provides residents fresh organic vegetables that are otherwise out of reach for their everyday budget. Best of all, our tenants are ‘eating locally’ and we are taking advantage of our temperate climate and available roof space. We hope exposure to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables will make a difference in the future food choices of the residents and their children.”

The recognition from this award means a lot for the Vitus Group, and also for future affordable housing projects in Hawaii.

“This award highlights Vitus’s contribution to the revitalization of affordable housing and elevates the importance of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to that effort,” Maeva says. “The renovation of Banyan Street Manor has fostered a sense of pride for the residents and is an example of the possibilities for innovative sustainable affordable housing. Banyan’s recognized success will serve as a roadmap for the City and County of Honolulu and the State of Hawaii when planning future public private partnerships.”