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Molina defends proposal to bifurcate Housing and Human Concerns

Mayor critical of dividing of one department, adding new Ag Department

Mike Molina

The Maui News

Council Member Michael Molina on Wednesday defended a proposal he introduced to separate the housing and social service responsibilities of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns into two departments in the wake of criticism from Mayor Michael Victorino.

The measure to place the department separation as a charter amendment on the November ballot was recommended for approval on June 23 by the council Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee, which Molina chairs. The measure will be taken up by the full council on July 24 and requires two approvals.

In a news release Wednesday, Molina said the proposed resolution would separate the Department of Housing and Human Concerns into the Department of Housing and the Department of Human Concerns.

“The intent of the proposed resolution is to allow a greater focus on the creation of affordable housing and permit increased concentration on human service needs,” he said.

Following the approval by the committee Tuesday of another measure to form a Department of Agriculture, Victorino issued a news release Tuesday night critical of both efforts to change the Cabinet structure of the county.

“It is reckless for the council to propose any changes to the county’s organization without properly analyzing how the amendments will benefit the economy, efficiency and services of this county,” Victorino said. “The current charter sets out the county’s policy to promote economy, efficiency and improved service in the conduct of public business.”

The mayor was particularly concerned about the cost of the department changes and additions in light of the county economy in shambles following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Specifically about Molina’s measure, Victorino said it is being proposed “without any clear objective goals or even a proposed budget.”

He also noted that 40 percent of housing projects submitted for consideration by the current County Council have been rejected.

“The bifurcation merely splits the DHHC into two halves and does not create any additional responsibilities or fund the necessary positions required to move housing initiatives forward,” Victorino said. “The council ultimately controls the fate of housing projects, regardless of bifurcation.”

Molina shot back, saying Victorino’s comments were “overly dramatic.”

“The mayor should be thanking the council for providing him the tools to create affordable housing and address human needs,” he said.

Molina said that his committee reviewed the proposal at three meetings with Housing and Human Concerns Director Lori Tsuhako providing written and oral comments on the proposal.

“The proposal was well vetted by GET and was seen as a necessity, especially during these difficult times, where people are out of work, needing financial assistance and requiring shelter; the timing for this couldn’t have been better,” said Molina.

The main purpose of the proposal is to have the new Department of Housing take a greater role in the creation of affordable housing for families in need.

“If implemented correctly, the proposal will allow Housing to take the initiative as a developer or co-developer for affordable housing,” said Molina. “Building dwellings will put people back to work, put money in their pockets and boost their morale by providing shelter.”

“Mr. Mayor, this sounds like a great ‘benefit to our economy,’ ” said Molina.

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