Politics of the River Street Project-Council Member Rod Tam, Chinese Business Leader Howard Lum, team up to block the Honolulu affordable housing project where it is so badly needed

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On Wednesday of last week, I received a phone call from the Bishop of Honolulu, Larry Silva. As always, his voice was soft, and his request sincere. He asked me to look into a homeless project called River Street. He was worried another opportunity to help our community would be wasted and disappear. So, I promised him I would look into it and do what I can.

In a nutshell, the River Street Project is an opportunity for the City and County to build 100 affordable housing units for the homeless. The project would be located on the corner of River St. and Vineyard. Interestingly enough, the property was owned by the City and County, but it wasn’t until recently, they realized it was theirs. After this realization, the City carefully thought out the best solution and use for it. After much consideration, the City applied for Federal funds and were given money to move forward with building a “Housing First” homeless solution. So, there is a need, there is property, and there are funds available to make this project happen.


I started calling friends and acquaintances in the community who knew more about the project than I did. I must have called 15 people, all of whom, were in support of moving the project forward. I even spent the day approaching the homeless, feeding them and discussing their plight. I found no one in opposition to the project. I even went to speak with the flower shop owner and her husband who currently lease part of the building. Though they will be displaced if the project moved forward, they were willing to talk with me. I asked this elderly couple if they knew about the project.

Between my broken Japanese and their broken English, I found them to be open, yet, when they explained to me what they had been told, I realized, they were never really given the facts about the project. Instead, they were made afraid and fear of the unknown and misinformation were their only concerns. I spent time talking with them about the facts, and afterwards, they seemed to be more understanding and willing to proceed with the project.

So, I wondered to myself, who fed them this fear, and who was driving upon it