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Bill to raise affordable housing requirements dies

Council fails to get enough votes to override mayor’s veto

Affordable housing project Kalama Kai in Kihei is pictured during a blessing ceremony in 2019. Critics had worried that a bill proposed by the Maui County Council to increase affordable housing requirements for fast-track projects would make it more difficult for developers to build homes. On Friday, the bill died after the Maui County Council was unable to get enough votes to override the mayor’s veto. — The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

A much-debated bill to require fast-track housing projects to offer more affordable housing died on Friday as the Maui County Council failed to garner enough votes to override Mayor Michael Victorino’s veto.

Bill 10 would have required 201H fast-tracked housing projects have at least 75 percent affordable units unless a lower percentage greater than 50 percent is approved by council.

“While no single proposal can solve our current housing shortage, we know from previous experience that Bill 10 would not have produced the housing we need,” Victorino said as he thanked council members in a statement late Friday afternoon. “My administration looks forward to working with the entire County Council on new creative ways to develop workforce housing, as well as affordable low-income housing, without delay.”

Victorino has said that while he appreciates the council’s good intentions, additional restrictions in the past have not provided more housing. He added that after the council made a similar change with the residential workforce housing policy 15 years ago, only three workforce housing units were developed between 2006 and 2014.

Critics have also said more requirements may put a strain on housing developers.

The proposed bill would have required fast-track projects like the Kenolio Apartments on Nokahea Loop to have at least 75 percent affordable units unless a lower percentage greater than 50 percent is approved by council. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Needing six votes, council members voted 4-3 to override the veto. Voting in favor of the override were Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and Council Members Mike Molina, Shane Sinenci and Gabe Johnson. Those opposed were Council Chairwoman Alice Lee and Council Members Kelly King and Yuki Lei Sugimura. Council Members Tamara Paltin and Tasha Kama were excused.

Molina, author of the original bill that later underwent amendments, said during the meeting that “the 75 percent is an ask; it is not a demand.”

He added that he has already met with a developer who is looking to build a housing project Upcountry. The developer went back to the drawing board after hearing about Bill 10, and instead of producing 51 percent affordable units, the developer said the project could do 68 percent.

Molina said the bill indeed could produce more housing, even if it’s not at the 75 percent asking point.

He added that Victorino was comparing “apples to oranges” with the residential workforce housing policy and Bill 10, which applies to 201H fast-track housing projects, which receive exemptions under the law.

Molina said not many affordable units were developed after the workforce housing policy changed because it also occurred at the time of the Great Recession.

King, who supported the bill on second reading but voted against overriding the veto on Friday, said it was a hard decision, noting that the bill “is a good idea” but that she was not sure if it would work.

She questioned the exemptions, wondering which developments would be allowed to build if their projects did not reach the 75 percent threshold and whether council members would allow their personal connections to factor into their decisions to allow a lower threshold.

She also wanted a comprehensive plan for affordable housing, not just one piece.

“I don’t feel we have a solid plan here,” King said, adding that affordable housing has been done even without Bill 10 in place and that the council can still work toward the goal of more homes with the county’s Affordable Housing Fund.

On Friday, the council also referred a revamped version of King’s bill — which seeks a moratorium on building permits for visitor accommodations in West and South Maui — to King’s Climate Action, Resilience and Environment Committee.

The bill’s subject matter was referred to the Infrastructure and Transportation Committee.

Officials with the Office of Council Services said that the climate committee will make a recommendation on the bill, while the infrastructure committee can discuss the subject but will not have jurisdiction over the bill.

Authored by King, the bill originally only proposed placing a moratorium on building permits for hotels and resorts in West and South Maui. Since referral of the bill stalled at an April 16 council meeting, King has drafted a new bill that would also place the moratorium on building permits for timeshares, short-term rental homes, bed-and-breakfast homes and transient vacation rental units in West and South Maui. The moratorium would be in place until the county updates the West and South Maui community plans.

“The pause will prevent additional air, noise, light, land and water pollution until the county updates the West Maui and South Maui community plans,” the bill says.

Also during its meeting on Friday, the council approved a bill on second and final reading to use $9 million of the county’s emergency funds to repair roads, bridges and other structures impacted by major flooding in March.

The bill also contained an amendment by Rawlins-Fernandez to require the Department of Public Works to report back to the council the repair and cost share plans from “applicable property owners.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

** This story contains a correction from the printed version on May 8.

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