Committee makes headway on affordable housing

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

Throughout this term, the County Council’s Land Use Committee, which I chair, reviewed several fast-track affordable housing projects proposed for Maui County. All told, the proposals considered were for 445 affordable units in Central Maui, Kihei, Hana and Lahaina.

The state’s fast-track housing statute (section 201H-38, Hawaii Revised Statutes) allows affordable housing developers to seek exemptions from state and county laws relating to planning, zoning, construction standards for subdivisions, and other development-related requirements. Exemptions essentially subsidize affordable units and allow the project to “pencil out” for affordable housing developers.

The process provides an avenue to address Hawaii’s critical housing shortage and the outmigration of Hawaii’s residents and families.

The need for these developments is undoubtedly pressing. A recent report from the Realtors Association of Maui noted the median single-family home price in October was over $770,000 for Maui County, an almost 16 percent increase from a year ago.

State and county studies identify Maui County as one of the most highly regulated counties in the nation, leading to higher priced homes and bolstering the perception that Maui is one of the hardest places to build affordable housing.

The Land Use Committee is responsible for balancing developer requests for exemptions with available county resources to assure affordable housing can be developed sustainably and effectively while meeting health and safety standards. Despite the 45-day time constraint imposed by statute, the committee carefully considers community input and impacts of the proposed development.

Public participation is crucial to the 201H process, as the project application and requested exemptions can be modified to address community concerns.

The proposed Makila Kai project in Lahaina, with 25 affordable units, was ultimately disapproved by the council following growing public concern over the project location and environmental impacts.

Following committee recommendations last year, the council approved a 100 percent affordable housing project to create 25 lots in Hana. Hana residents testified in support of the project and noted the overcrowding of homes in their neighborhoods due to a lack of housing options.

The recent groundbreaking for the Kaiwahine Village project in Kihei is a tangible step toward implementing the committee’s recommendation to approve the project’s variation and time extension request. The project will add 120 units to the county’s affordable rental housing inventory, with an anticipated completion date in the fall of 2021.

This August, the committee also reviewed and recommended approval of the Waikapu Development Venture LLC Affordable Workforce Housing Project, which will provide 80 for-sale units and serve qualified individuals earning between 70 and 140 percent of the area median income.

Earlier this month, the committee recommended approval of a 201H application for a 324-unit rental development in Wailuku, with 195 affordable units based on Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. guidelines for area median income. A bill to reclassify the state land use district boundary for the Legacy Wailuku LLC project will be considered on second and final reading in December.

Once constructed, these projects will add 420 affordable housing units to the county’s current housing inventory.

Although the 201H process is imperfect, it gives the county an opportunity to mitigate the high cost of housing in Hawaii by expediting regulatory processes, removing barriers and increasing housing stock.

* Robert Carroll is chair of the Maui County Council’s Land Use Committee. He holds the council seat for the Hana 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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