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Council overrides mayor’s veto on housing waitlist

Mayor says bill creates liability; council says it will get more people into homes

The Maui County Council voted Friday to override Mayor Michael Victorino’s veto of a bill that would create an affordable housing waitlist overseen by the county, saying that changes needed to be made to get more people into homes.

The council voted 6-3 in favor of the override. Bill 111 would have the county manage an affordable housing waitlist as well as shift the qualification process for the homes from the developer to the county Department of Housing and Human Concerns, or a designated third party. It would also allow a longer marketing duration for projects from 90 days to 120 days for unsold units and give priority for the affordable units to those who have lived on the island the longest.

In his veto letter, Victorino said he was concerned about the liability placed on the county with managing the detailed qualification process, along with potentially longer carrying costs for developers that could be passed down to residents with the longer marketing period. He also had issues with what he called a new “durational residency requirement” and how it would comply with federal laws.

Council Members Gabe Johnson, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Mike Molina, Kelly King, Tamara Paltin and Shane Sinenci voted in favor of the override. Those opposed were Alice Lee, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Tasha Kama.

Johnson, who chairs the Affordable Housing Committee which pushed forward the bill, countered some of Victorino’s concerns at the meeting, saying that the bill does not have a “durational residency requirement” but a formula to give preference to longtime Maui residents. He said the formula has been used in other municipalities.

Johnson added that if there are federal or state criteria for a project, then those must apply to the qualification process.

He added that the for-profit challengers to the bill “have been benefitting from the system,” and “of course they want the status quo.”

Molina said he was voting in favor of the bill and that it could go well with a possible Maui County Charter amendment to have a separate Housing Department in the county, an idea he has also proposed.

Molina echoed a testifier’s sentiment that if changes need to be made to the bill, then the council can do so at that time.

Rawlins-Fernandez said she would be OK with the county taking on the liability of the qualification process as “right now no one is and our people are suffering because of it.”

“Who is suing the developers to hold them accountable?” she asked.

As chairwoman of the council’s Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee, Rawlins-Fernandez said she would be happy to work with the administration on getting the resources needed to comply with the bill.

“If we need more personnel, let’s do it. Housing is so limited,” Rawlins-Fernandez said.

Lee said that overall, there should be fewer barriers and conditions for affordable homes and added that more needed to be done than passing the bill.

“We ourselves are partially to blame, not only the administration. But the blame goes right around to everyone,” she said.

Sugimura said she was voting against the override as she sees the affordable housing waiting list similarly to the county-managed Upcountry water meter list, for which some people have waited for years to get a meter.

She said having an updated housing waitlist may be hard for the county to keep track of, as people’s financial situations may change quickly.

“It’s not a tool to me,” Sugimura added.

But Rawlins-Fernandez said she disagreed with Sugimura’s comparison of the two lists, noting the affordable housing list selection will be done by lottery and not “first-come, first-serve” as with the meter list.

In other matters Friday, council members also:

• Voted 9-0 to file a communication by Victorino regarding Bill 135, which would prohibit the sale, use or distribution of nonmineral-based sunscreens in Maui County, amid concerns of its potential toxicity and harm to the environment.

In a letter to the council, Victorino said that while he did sign the bill, he wanted to leave open the possibility to have the bill updated with further findings from an ad hoc committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, which will review research on the use of sunscreen ingredients that are currently marketed in the U.S.

Managing Director Sandy Baz told council members on Friday that the mayor was not trying to stall the bill, which goes into effect on Oct. 1, 2022, but possibly provide more information in relation to the bill.

King, who introduced the bill, described the letter as “highly disturbing” and said she could not recall any similar types of communication in the past after a bill has been signed. She added that if there is new related information, the council would take it upon itself to see how it applies to the bill.

• Filed Victorino’s letter offering comments on the “aina kupuna” bill designated to help longtime local residents who are at risk of losing their property because of market-driven increases in property values, especially in highly sought areas along the shoreline.

Victorino, who also signed the bill, said he supports the measure and intent, but is recommending further review to see if there are any financial impacts of the aina kupuna dedication or any other unintended consequences that may threaten the viability of the tax relief program.

Rawlins-Fernandez, who introduced the bill, said she disagreed with Victorino’s approach, as she has already pledged to work with the administration on the mayor’s concerns.

• Voted 7-1 on second and final reading to approve the updated West Maui Community Plan. Kama was excused and Sugimura voted against the measure.

• Passed bills on first reading that would allow $3 million be used for repairs due to the severe weather the county experienced earlier this month. The council waived its rules to send the bills to committee, saying they wanted to move the measures so the county would be able to expend the money quicker. However, the emergency repair projects will still be discussed in committee.

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

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