Wednesday, July 19, 2023

IMOA: That’s Fine for Waipahu: Gentrifications rears its ugly head

 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[1]. 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[2]. 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 replaced.

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 Rocky's.

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 wanted.

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.

Key Words: #gentrification, #SocialJustice, #FoodSecurity, FoodDesert, #GenerationalPoverty,




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