County revives First-time Homebuyers Program

CHAIR’S 3 MINUTES

During the fiscal year 2019 budget deliberations, the County Council appropriated $2 million for the revival of the county’s First-time Homebuyers Program.

The program was last active from fiscal year 2010 through fiscal year 2013 and provided individual grants worth up to $15,000 to Maui County residents for down payment and closing costs on fee simple or leasehold property.

The council provided $200,000 in each fiscal year the program was active and awarded a total of 52 individual grants to eligible households.

A 2016 statewide study on housing planning identified high down payment costs as a top barrier to homeownership for working-class families and individuals.

Recently, the council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee, which I chair, asked the county Department of Housing and Human Concerns to re-evaluate the previous program’s parameters, analyze the needs of possible applicants, and consider a sliding scale to provide equitable funding for households based on income level.

The department will submit a proposed resolution containing program details for committee vetting and approval within the next two months.

The committee has also tasked the department with developing a strategic road map to meet the future housing needs of the county. The strategic road map requires the department to prioritize housing-related issues and conduct an internal analysis on how the county’s affordable housing fund is processed and administered.

In past committee meetings, the department noted it had difficulties implementing priorities related to property evaluation and acquisition for affordable housing purposes because it lacked personnel with housing development experience.

The council responded by providing funding for a housing development specialist to help fill the gap of knowledge and expertise in the department. Recruitment for the position is ramping up and will remain open until filled.

The department must also consider proactive methods of administering the county’s affordable housing fund to maximize affordable housing development and how it can access, advertise and utilize $200 million in state funding available to develop affordable rental housing.

Running in parallel with the department’s strategic road map is an independent analysis of housing policies and implementation strategies by the council’s affordable housing policy analysis and implementation plan contractor.

The contractor will complete its findings and recommendations at the end of this month, and is scheduled to present them to the committee in early August.

In other committee-related news, the Department of Transportation recently established a new fixed public transportation route for the Maui Bus that will service the Waihee community. The new route was proposed as a recommendation in the 2016 Maui Short Range Transit plan and was vetted by my committee to analyze the cost, potential ridership, timing and stops.

Maui Bus riders for the new Waihee route and all fixed routes will now be able to track their bus in real time and get arrival predictions using the new Maui Bus app. You can access the new free app by searching for “Maui Bus” in the App Store or in Google Play.

Lastly, as secretary of the Hawaii State Association of Counties Executive Committee, I attended the organization’s annual conference in Honolulu where topics such as agricultural technology, long-range planning, climate change and the effects of tourism on county resources were discussed.

Lively discussion focused primarily on a proposed state constitutional amendment that will establish a surcharge on real investment property for public education if it passes the ballot in the upcoming general election.

County representatives were concerned that the proposal would make it difficult to balance future budgets and may unintentionally raise rents in Hawaii.

Many County representatives instead advocated for an audit of the state Department of Education to determine whether current funding is being distributed and utilized effectively.

Mahalo!

* Stacy Crivello is chair of the council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee. She holds the council seat for the Molokai 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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