Imagine Pacific Original Article (IMOA)
Title: That’s Fine for Waipahu: Gentrifications rears its ugly head
By James E. Faumuina
The decision to close two major grocery stores in Waipahu town conveniently in front of two rail stations may have been made by the Honolulu City Council with a sense of indifference. Maybe they believed the community would not complain, given their prior endurance of the rail construction and acceptance of issues like exposure to Heptachlor from the plantation. The closure of the remaining affordable sources of food in the town feels like yet another blow to a community raised on the belief that the company store would provide. It is almost as if they assumed the people of Waipahu were accustomed to such treatment.
Perhaps the council and developers believed that since Waipahu's poverty rate hovers around 9.5%, dangerously close to the worst quadrant of poverty according to the US Census, any gesture resembling economic development would be appreciated by the community. It may not be arrogance, but rather a well-intentioned attempt to offer a helping hand. However, this raises an important question: Is this gesture truly a hand extended in support, or is it the developers raising their palms in a stopping motion?
If we accept the notion that these changes are for the
community's own good, then the lack of Section 8 housing, the homelessness
around Hans L'orange Park, and the infamous stories about Pupu streets may all
resurface with renewed vigor under the guise of community development. My
concern is the promised growth and economic revival unfortunately will begin with
literal sweeping changes being made starting with the current residents being
I am intimately familiar with the area. My family moved
there in 1982, and we were among the first to settle in Village Park (then
Herbert Horita) Homes. Waipahu holds formative memories for me, from attending
Saint Joseph's church to shopping at the Old Safeway, and even working at
Blockbusters. I eventually was hired by the Leeward YMCA, as its Executive
Director during the renovation of the old Sugarmill. While others may claim
deeper roots, anyone from Waipahu shares a common bond with its unique sense of
place, whether it's shopping at the Old Arakawa's or having breakfast at
In "Poverty in America," Matthew Desmond asked:
"Who really benefits?" It is true, in Waipahu, some people live in
poverty. Unfortunately, society holds beliefs about those in poverty, assuming
laziness or lack of motivation. We tend to believe that being poor is a choice,
contrasting it with success as if it were easily attainable for everyone.
However, the reality is that anyone can spiral into poverty due to unforeseen
circumstances such as illness, family deaths, accidents, lost businesses,
missed paychecks, or even a DUI. No community is immune, but Waipahu has its
share of challenges.
It takes sober eyes to recognize that "affordable"
housing alone cannot be seen as a solution to ending poverty and perpetuating
community development. There must be compensatory measures and community
trade-offs in place, ensuring that when something is taken away, something of
equal or greater value is given in return. The current messaging and proposed
alternatives feel unbalanced. Unless you are among the "benefiting"
group mentioned by Desmond, congratulations, I guess you are getting what you
The rail was offered to improve the quality of life for
residents. However, it’s apparent we must be on guard against developments that
create gentrification, with development at the expense of displacing residents
or removing community assets without providing suitable replacements. If the
council is genuinely committed to Waipahu’s development, they must prioritize
and consider who will truly benefit from this proposal.