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Mayor vetoes affordable housing bill

Victorino says measure will discourage projects from being built

Saying a new affordable housing bill will only intensify housing scarcity for Maui County, Mayor Michael Victorino vetoed the measure on Monday.

Introduced by Council Member Mike Molina, Bill 10 requires that 201H fast-tracked housing projects have at least 75 percent affordable units unless a lower percentage greater than 50 percent is approved by the council.

It was approved April 6 with a 6-3 vote, with Council Chairwoman Alice Lee and Council Members Tasha Kama and Yuki Lei Sugimura dissenting.

“I certainly appreciate the Maui County Council’s good intentions behind this legislation,” Victorino said in a news release Tuesday afternoon. “In theory, Bill 10 would require more affordable housing to be built, but in reality, history has shown that such additional restrictions have the opposite effect.”

Molina said Tuesday evening that he is “not surprised” with the mayor’s decision because Victorino has not supported any of Molina’s initiatives to address affordable housing, create jobs, enhance the economy or alleviate environmental issues.

“The mayor seems to only be listening to developers,” Molina told The Maui News. “He’s not listening to the people, the families, that are begging us for affordable housing. We are in a real crisis here.”

In saying Bill 10 will intensify housing scarcity, Victorino is parroting fear-based statements, he added.

“The mayor is using the same scare tactics that developers and other building industry representatives used in the council deliberations,” Molina said.

Lee, meanwhile, has consistently opposed the bill, saying it will dissuade affordable housing projects, which are already costly, and add another layer of “bureaucracy” to a difficult entitlement process for developers.

As a former county housing director, Lee said she is familiar with policies prior councils proposed and knows what works and what doesn’t work.

“I’m familiar with, for instance, when the Land Use Commission required a 60 percent affordable housing requirement, and that failed, and then I also remember when the County Council required a 50 percent affordable housing requirement, and that failed,” she told The Maui News on Tuesday night. “So obviously 75 percent is too high.”

Maui County has long faced a housing crisis, exacerbated by a pandemic-induced hot real estate market that even economists couldn’t have predicted.

In January, the county set a record high for single-family home median sales prices at $980,000, then hit the mark again in March, according to data from Realtors Association of Maui. Also, inventory reached a new historic low in March at 221 units.

Hawaii’s 201H fast-track 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.

Molina and supporters have said the 201H process is just one pathway for developers to move forward, and that they could seek other paths for approval. Also, Bill 10 allows for flexibility — the county and the public can allow developments to bypass the requirement if a project warrants it.

Victorino, however, said that Bill 10 is similar to the council’s move 15 years ago that changed the residential workforce housing policy. As a result, only three workforce housing units were developed between 2006 and 2014, he added.

“Our hardworking families simply can’t afford to wait years to see if it will work this time around,” Victorino said in the statement. “Maui County is still recovering from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and if we fail to learn from the mistakes of our predecessors, we are destined to repeat them.”

Molina countered that comparing Bill 10 with the old workforce housing policy is like comparing “apples and oranges.”

“The old workforce housing policy didn’t have the incentives that this 201H (process) does, where developers get exemptions and waivers and so forth,” he said. “Bill 10 does not take away any of the incentives to developers in the 201H process. Developers will still be able to request exemptions and receive expedited review and receive waiver of fees and assessments.”

Molina and Lee both said that based on council’s second and final reading vote of 6-3, the veto will likely be overridden. The council must have six votes to override a veto.

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

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