Japanese property mogul Genshiro Kawamoto has handed over three of his many multi-million-dollar homes in Oahu’s most expensive neighbourhood to homeless and low-income native Hawaiian families.
Tears ran down Dorie-Ann Kahele’s cheeks as she accepted the key to a white-columned house worth nearly €3.8m. Her family will live in the mansion rent-free.
Kawamoto plans to open eight of his 22 Kahala neighbourhood homes to needy Hawaiian families, who will be able to stay in the homes for up to 10 years.
Kahele, 39, and her five daughters had been living in one small room at a homeless shelter for the past five years.
“What we need to do is appreciate,” said Kahele. “As fast as we got it, it could disappear.”
Kawamoto, whose eyes started welling up when Kahele cried, said he would not charge the families anything to live in the homes. They will, however, have to pay their own utility bills.
The billionaire, one of Japan’s richest men, said he was embarking on the unusual venture because it made him happy.
Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented among the state’s homeless and working poor.
Kawamoto owns dozens of office buildings in Tokyo and his been buying and selling property in Hawaii and California since the 1980s.
He has been criticised for evicting tenants of his rental homes on short notice so he could sell the properties, as in 2002, when he gave hundreds of California tenants 30 days to leave.
Two years later, he served eviction notices to tenants in 27 Oahu rental homes, saying they had to leave within a month. He said he wanted to sell the houses to take advantage of rising prices.
Kawamoto selected the eight low-income families from 3,000 people who wrote him letters last year after he announced his plan. He said he tried to pick working, single mothers.
Kawamoto laughed when asked if he was concerned about losing money on the effort, saying: “This is pocket money for me.”
Kahele became homeless two years ago when her landlord raised her rent from €620 to €930, putting the apartment beyond reach of her salary as a customer service representative.
But some neighbours are unhappy with Kawamoto’s plan, saying he is trying to drive down property values so he can buy even more homes.
“Everyone’s paying homage to him, but in reality, he’s the problem,” said Mark Blackburn, who lives down the street from Kahale’s new home.
“Houses are homes. They’re made to live in; they aren’t investment vehicles.”
But an unrepentant Kawamoto said: “The people who don’t want to live near Hawaiians should move.”