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Billionaire readies 5 mansions for homeless

HONOLULU (AP) ” Wandering through the upstairs of one of his empty mansions, Japanese real estate mogul Genshiro Kawamoto quickly counted the rooms, each unused since he purchased the multimillion-dollar home three years ago.

The billionaire examined five of his ritzy properties Thursday, as if he was gazing at the insides for the first time as he prepares to hand over the homes to five more Native Hawaiian homeless families by July, asking them to only pay the utility bills.

Kawamoto already has set up three homeless families in nearby mansions.

He expressed approval at extra storage space in the unfilled rooms, flowers still surviving in the unkept yards and fancy kitchen fixtures.

Two of the houses share a backyard, with a tennis court, a bathhouse, hot tub and swimming pool ” currently filled with palm tree leaves and coconuts.

Kawamoto said he is “98 percent” sure which families will move into his homes on Kahala Avenue, where some of Oahu’s most luxurious homes lie behind towering gates. He selected the families from among 3,000 applicants. He has said he tried to pick working, single mothers.

“I want to help them as a fairy godfather would do,” he said through a translator

Kawamoto, who owns dozens of office buildings in downtown Tokyo and has been buying and selling U.S. real estate in Hawaii and California since the 1980s, used a piece of hotel stationary filled with the addresses to navigate the neighborhood in his gray Jaguar Vanden Plas, leading reporters on a house tour.

After a few repairs, some landscaping and the removal of the six-foot-tall gate at one mansion, the low-income Native Hawaiian families will move in, wrapping up a rag-to-riches success story Kawamoto seems so proud to be behind.

Kawamoto described the new tenants as house-sitting so their families can grow up in extravagant homes instead of low-income shelters.

One of Japan’s richest men, Kawamoto has plans to open eight of his 22 Kahala homes to needy Hawaiian families. Native Hawaiians are disproportionately represented among the state’s homeless and working poor.

The first three families got their keys in March and will be able to stay in the homes for up to 10 years. Kawamoto said he hasn’t been checking in with them because they need to adjust to the new lifestyle.

While Kawamoto says he has received no complaints, some neighbors had said they were unhappy with the plan and accuse him of trying to drive down real estate values to buy even more homes.

“I want to do what I like to do without causing trouble for others,” said Kawamoto, who wore a light blue sports jacket and designer jeans.

The mansions, each with assessed values of between $2.5 million and $4.5 million, could be rented out for up to $7,000 a month, Kawamoto said. But he says that would be “pocket money” for him.

He carried a few mattresses into one home. He said he’s also been buying new furniture and gathering couches and chairs from other properties he owns.

Workers are replacing the roof, fixing boarded up windows and will take down a metal chain-linked fence on another house, Kawamoto said.

One home, hidden behind large bushes and a Hawaiian garden, currently houses tenants who have leased the property for years. But Kawamoto said he feels the home will be a good fit for his project. So, he’ll end the lease.

“Those people are rich, they could go anywhere,” Kawamoto said. “They can afford to go.”


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