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Panel defers affordable housing rule changes

Members urged to wait for comprehensive plan before taking action

Jeff Gilbreath – In charge of contracted plan

Following the advice to wait until an upcoming affordable housing plan is considered, the Maui County Council Affordable Housing Committee put the brakes on a proposal that would have amended the county’s affordable housing rules.

Committee Chairman Gabe Johnson on Wednesday deferred a bill with four proposed amendments to the county’s affordable housing rules, including changing the definition of residential workforce housing to 120 percent of area median income or less, limiting townhomes and multifamily dwellings to 100 percent area median income, authorizing the mayor and the council to promote affordable housing projects and waitlists and increasing the waitlist offer period from 90 to 180 days.

Hawaiian Community Assets Executive Director Jeff Gilbreath, whose organization has a $130,000 county contract to engage the community and develop a comprehensive affordable housing plan, urged the council members Wednesday to wait on the affordable housing bills to avoid conflict with the future plan, which is slated for draft review by the council in March and approval in June.

“I understand you folks are ready to act, and I see it and I hear it,” said Gilbreath. “All we’re really asking is give us another 30 days — give us the chance to complete this work, we’ve only been 90 days on it.”

Gilbreath said that although his team sees the value in the proposals, the bills conflict with the contract’s charge to develop a comprehensive set of recommendations based on the county’s housing policies.

“They do conflict,” he said in response to questions from council members. “With our recommendations that will be coming forward, we will be taking all of these holistically and looking at each of them, not just these things piecemeal, but how do we craft a bold approach that’s coherent, that creates certainty in the marketplace and allows us to really get at deeper affordability.”

Gilbreath, whose nonprofit Hawaiian Community Assets provides housing counseling, said his team of more than 20 engineers, planners, developers, financiers and housing counseling professionals have been working “fast and furious” on the plan for the last 90 days, which mandates “robust community engagement.”

So far, they’ve gotten participation from 589 residents through events such as nine Zoom meetings on Facebook Live, managed in partnership with Akaku. They’ve also gathered more than 126 responses on a Maui housing plan survey and have conducted meetings with 107 key stakeholders “across the spectrum of thought” on affordable housing.

“My request really just comes from the fact that when you folks contracted us to do this work in very quick order, we want to make sure we do the work, but also that we are doing right by the community in bringing all the comments that are coming forward,” he said. “And then that those comments, those recommendations, actually get used at the end of the day.”

Wednesday’s meeting was a continuation from Feb. 1, when another bill that would change fast-track affordable housing rules was recommended for approval.

Hawaii’s fast-track 201H law, administered by the county, is an expedited path that allows exemptions from certain rules and fees for housing developments with a minimum of 50 percent affordable units. The new bill would require that 201H housing projects have 75 percent affordable units unless a lower percentage, which is greater than 50 percent, is approved by council.

Although some council members and testifiers on Feb. 1 cautioned that results from the county-funded affordable housing study should be considered before taking action, the committee voted 5-3, with one excused, to move forward with the bill.

Those who voted in favor were Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Tamara Paltin, Johnson, Shane Sinenci and Mike Molina. Those against were Alice Lee, Kelly King and Yuki Lei Sugimura. Council member Tasha Kama was excused.

The bill will move to the council for first reading.

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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