Council tackles director qualifications and housing

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

This past week, the County Council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee continued discussions on professional qualifications for future department directors.

As the level of responsibility and complexity continues to grow in the operations of departments, the council passed a charter amendment proposal to allow for additional qualifications and council confirmation to be required for department directors appointed by the mayor.

Voters approved the amendment in the 2016 election and when the new mayor is elected in 2018, a total of 11 directors will be subject to council confirmation and, possibly, additional professional qualifications.

Currently, each director position has limited qualifications set forth in the county charter. With the newly adopted provision, the council can create additional professional requirements, such as certifications or degrees. The goal is to hire professionals with expertise in their field of work.

At its meeting, the public policy committee began review of the directors of Public Works and Environmental Management. Both departments require technical skills, one to maintain highways and the other to run landfill systems. Therefore, a requirement of holding an engineering degree and license is being contemplated.

Discussions are ongoing and the public is encouraged to provide input either in person or by emailing PEA.Committee@MauiCounty.us, referencing PEA-27.

On Wednesday, members of Land Use Committee headed to Hana and began deliberations on a proposal from GTH Land Co. for a 100 percent affordable housing project.

Located to the west of Kawaipapa Stream and mauka of Hana Highway, the company plans on developing approximately 7.22 acres into 25 developable single-family lots with the option for an ohana unit on each parcel.

According to the proposal, all lots would be sold to qualified individuals with an area median income range of below 80 percent to 140 percent, with home prices ranging from $118,150 to $206,750, pursuant to affordable sales price guidelines set forth by the Department of Housing and Human Concerns.

The project is being considered under a section of state law called Chapter 201H. In an effort to alleviate the affordable housing crises and produce more affordable homes throughout Hawaii, the Legislature created this process to allow developers to obtain land use approvals in an expedited manner and exempt projects from certain requirements.

Under this process, the council has just 45 days to either approve, approve with modifications or deny the project.

If no action is taken, the project is automatically approved as proposed. Therefore, it is critical to obtain community input on the project and make the appropriate decisions before the time deadline.

After hearing overwhelming support from the Hana community on the need for additional affordable housing, the committee recommended approval of the project. The matter now moves to the full council for a final vote.

Recognizing the continued emphasis on affordable housing, on Friday the council passed on first reading amendments to the workforce housing policy led by Council Member Stacy Crivello as chair of the Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee.

The amendment will allow for additional incentives for developers to build affordable rental housing by expanding the issuance of housing credits.

The previous policy only allowed units sold by the developer to receive credits, but no incentives existed to develop rental units.

In many ways the previous policy did not make much sense, since a large segment of the population need rental units and not necessarily a property to purchase.

The hope is that this amendment is a step in the right direction to help spur the creation of truly affordable rental units for residents.

The affordable housing crisis won’t be solved instantly, but we must keep chipping away at the issue and continue to assist residents in finding their own special place to call home.

* Mike White is chair of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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