Hanalei nonprofit wants to transform former church into housing for teachers, lifeguards

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From left: Mina Morita, Steve Kinslow, Bryson Anakalea, Joel Guy and Chala Monk of The Hanalei Initiative. Taken Mar. 7, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

A nonprofit organization has taken possession of the Church of Latter Day Saints ward in Hanalei – and it has big plans for the three-quarter-acre plot on the North Shore of Kaua‘i.

“The Hanalei Initiative would like to maximize the use of the property, not only as an innovation hub to fulfill its mission, but to also help address critical rental housing,” said Joel Guy, the executive director of the nonprofit dedicated to making the North Shore “a great place to live, work and play.”

Over the decades, quaint Hanalei has become a well-known enclave for the wealthy. Would-be residents essential to the neighborhood’s well-being can no longer afford to move in, according to Guy and Mina Morita, president of The Hanalei Initiative’s board of directors.

The nonprofit’s past achievements include the construction of a neighborhood playground and basketball court, as well as the renovation of the Hanalei Pavilion. It also played a key role in the creation of a tourism-management system for nearby Hā‘ena State Park, which has since become a model for the state.

“What we’re now seeing is, it’s difficult recruiting teachers, recruiting lifeguards, whatever, to be in the community because of price points for rentals,” Morita said.


Construction of workforce housing at the former Mormon church – however small – would constitute a vital step toward correcting the situation, Guy and Morita believe. The property in its present state could accommodate 10 bedrooms under zoning regulations, according to the latter.

“We would love to do a housing project that would be able to service lifeguards and teachers,” Guy said. “Now clearly, housing for everybody is important … [But] they’re the first responders, they’re educating our kids. To have that demographic housed in town in perpetuity, we feel like that’s a super great place to start.”

The former Mormon church is located on Kūhiō Highway, just beyond the business center of Hanalei. The vicinity includes the Hanalei Post Office, views of lo‘i kalo (wetland taro patches) and Nāmolokama mountain, St. William’s Catholic Church, Waiʻoli Town Park, the historic Waiʻoli Hui‘ia Church and Mission House and Hanalei School. It is also within two blocks of Hanalei Bay, all forming the heart of the local community.

  • Nonprofit staff perform yard work at the former Church of Latter Day Saints Hanalei Ward. Taken Mar. 7, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now
  • From left: Joel Guy, Chala Monk and Mina Morita inspect their nonprofit’s future office space. Taken Mar. 7, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now
  • The entrance of the former Mormon church. Taken Mar. 7, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now
  • The parking lot of the former Mormon church, located at the rear of the property, is the projected site of workforce housing. Taken Mar. 7, 2024. Photo Credit: Scott Yunker/Kaua‘i Now

The sale of the property closed only two weeks ago when an unnamed local supporter of The Hanalei Initiative cut a $4.6 million check to buy it. The nonprofit immediately took possession of the land through a lease agreement with a recorded option to purchase the property within three years.

The Hanalei Initiative has wasted no time since. Members of its staff and contractors are already making the repairs to the building, so the growing nonprofit – which has 30 personnel – can move out of its current, smaller headquarters across the street.


“It’s pretty exciting to hit the ground running,” Guy said.

However, the nonprofit has much more to do than remodel its new office space.

“The first objective was to secure the land. We’re just hitting that realization of, ‘OK, we got it now. What’s the next step?'” Morita laughed.

According to Guy, The Hanalei Initiative is now embarking on three tracks: the operationalization of the building for its use; the creation of a capital campaign to purchase the property outright; and the conceptualization of the housing project through a master plan, which will include community outreach to identify other needs the land could potentially address.

“With the master plan, how can we maximize the use of this property for the public benefit?” Morita said.


“We’re pulling in community leaders within our town to have those discussions,” Guy said.

Scott Yunker
Scott Yunker is a journalist living on Kauaʻi. His work for community newspapers has earned him awards and inclusion in the 2020 anthology "Corona City: Voices from an Epicenter."
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