Billionaire Giving Low-Income Families Hawaii Homes for $150 a Month

Japanese billionaire Genshiro Kawamoto has selected the first four of eight Native Hawaiian families that will each rent one of his multimillion-dollar homes in the exclusive oceanside Kahala area for $150 a month.

The low-income families could move into the furnished Kahala Avenue homes, purchased in 2005 for $2 million to $3.4 million each, as soon as this weekend.

"They will be living in heaven now," said Kawamoto, a 75-year-old real estate tycoon.

Among Kawamoto's four rental homes is one with five bedrooms and 5 1/2 bathrooms. The 6,489-square-foot home was built in 1989 and is more than three times larger than the average house on Oahu. It was purchased by Kawamoto in August 2005 for $3.4 million.

The families were selected from 3,000 people who wrote him in response to his plan announced in October to rent to low-income Hawaiians.

Kawamoto said it was difficult to choose families because there was so much interest. He also expects to select four more tenant families as early as next month.

He said he's renting the homes "because the affluent people can help the least fortunate people."

Kawamoto spent about $115 million to purchase 20 homes on Kahala Avenue since 2002. Many of the houses have been vacant since then. He plans to convert four to public museums displaying his collection of Western and Oriental art.

The plan hasn't been welcomed by everyone, including some of his neighbors, who have complained about the upkeep of the homes and the possibility of the area losing value.

Kawamoto stirred up controversy beginning in the 1980s when he bought up 160 Oahu homes. He often rented them for well below market value and the homes were allowed to fall into disrepair. Kawamoto claimed his property managers failed to tell him of the problems.

Miguel Martinez, a repairman who is helping preparing the homes for the renters, said Kawamoto just wants to help.

"He's a very humble superman," Martinez said. "I think it's a beautiful thing."