A Home Base

Baseyard Hawaii and Nanakuli Housing Corp. help needy Native Hawaiians build homes and divert construction materials from Hawaii landfills.

September, 2004

In 2001, Paige Barber was on the Big Island running a workshop to teach Native Hawaiian farmers how to market their crops. While there, the Native Hawaiian community leader visited a Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) site in Makuu. She found families living under blue tarpaulin tents on plots of land they owned. They had aina (land), but no kala (money).

“We asked them what we could do to help them get out of the tarp tent and into a real shelter. They said they could use construction materials and have friends and family help them build a home,” recalls Barber.

Upon returning to Oahu, Barber nabbed a $5,000 seed grant from the Hawaii state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) to study existing construction material assistance and Mainland nonprofits that offer training. She found plenty of examples and decided to form Baseyard Hawaii. Baseyard would team up with the Nanakuli Housing Corp. (NHC), another nonprofit run by Barber. NHC helps Native Hawaiians prepare for and successfully transition into homeownership. Baseyard Hawaii would complement NHC by functioning as a thrift shop for surplus and recycled construction materials, giving away these items to needy families and nonprofits. The state and local governments would benefit through decreased landfill usage.

Since Baseyard launched in May 2002, Barber’s staff has expanded from one to four. They have pulled in $125,000 in grants to run the operation from local foundations, such as the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Campbell Estate and the Weinberg Foundation, as well as from the state and federal governments. Local businesses have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of construction materials ranging from sinks to light fixtures to lumber. “Rather than pay the tipping fees, we recycle it,” says Alan Shintani, president of Alan Shintani Construction and a regular Baseyard contributor.

Shintani and other general contractors have also donated their time to staff free courses on homeownership offered by Nanakuli Housing Corp. The programs also include training in math and other skills that Barber has found many of her customers lack. Barber has also procured a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with help from Senators Akaka and Inouye, to fund a more extensive program in construction project management. “Instead of giving them the same information they are getting elsewhere, we wanted to help them develop the skills so that when they do build or renovate they can monitor the project,” says Barber. She hopes to also add a handyman-training program that could provide the poor with training to fill this niche, which is in high demand around Oahu and pays a solid hourly wage in the $20 to $30 range.

To date, Baseyard has helped 50 Native Hawaiian families and a dozen Oahu nonprofits by giving them free construction materials. Baseyard is also open to the public and has a growing clientele of contractors and renovators, who love the low prices they pay on gently used goods. Equally important, Baseyard has diverted 900 tons of construction waste from landfills, saving donors an estimated $23,000 in tipping fees. That’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, at less than one-half of 1 percent of total construction waste going into Hawaii landfills.

However, Barber has big expansion plans for the two organizations. They just received rights to lease two buildings and 5 acres at Kalaeloa from DHHL and hope to start reaping the benefits of ongoing salvage and demolition operations on the base. What’s more, Barber plans to put a catalog of available materials online and step up marketing in the coming year to bring in more business. She says, “We hope to reduce our reliance on grants over the next five years as we grow.”

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Hawaii Business magazine