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Council to consider mayor’s veto of housing waitlist bill

Victorino worries about liability as measure would put county in charge of list

The Maui County Council may decide Friday whether to override a veto of a bill that would create an affordable housing waitlist overseen by the county, a move that Mayor Michael Victorino has said would create liability issues and hinder efforts to get more residents into housing.

In a letter on Dec. 7 to the Maui County Council, Victorino outlined three areas of concern and said he would “strongly urge the council to reconsider its decision.” The matter is on the council’s meeting agenda for Friday.

Passed by the council on Nov. 5, the bill would shift the responsibility of managing the housing project waitlist and its qualification process from the developer to the county Department of Housing and Human Concerns or a designated third party. It was forwarded to Victorino for his signature on Nov. 22.

Council Member Gabe Johnson, chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee which pushed forward the bill, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that he was “disappointed” with the veto.

“In this housing crisis that we are facing, the veto does not help, it hinders our way forward,” he said, noting long-term residents should be put first and the housing crisis is driving locals away.

Johnson has previously said and reiterated Tuesday that change is necessary, as the “status quo is not working” in regards to getting residents into homes.

Victorino said in his letter that he disagreed with the bill, as giving responsibility to the county to determine and verify eligibility for projects, including income of an applicant, would place liability on the county should an applicant be erroneously deemed eligible.

He said that if there are “valid and verified concerns” over eligibility determined by developers, the county “should focus on providing more oversight to the existing process, rather than taking on the liability of the developer.”

Increasing the marketing duration for projects from 90 days to 120 days for unsold units is also a concern for Victorino, who said that it will limit the ability “to quickly get qualified residents into housing that may belong to another income bracket and increase carrying costs for developers, which will likely be passed onto the homeowners.”

Victorino also took issue with the residency requirement — which would give priority for the affordable units to those who have lived on the island the longest — saying it could impact “the county and developers’ ability to comply with the federal fair housing law and the equal protection and privileges and immunities clauses” in the U.S. Constitution.

“While I am in full support of ensuring our long-term residents have the ability to work and raise their families here, this particular requirement needs to be well thought out and researched before placing an expectation upon our residents that they will receive preferential treatment,” Victorino said in his letter.

He also worried whether the county would be able to properly defend itself if someone filed a legal challenge.

Johnson said in an email Tuesday afternoon that the county should be in charge of waitlists to help protect local homeowners.

“The county should absolutely manage housing waitlists, so mortgage steering and other manipulations of the system can no longer happen,” he added. “We need transparency and a system that supports our residents achieve home ownership.”

He also disagreed with Victorino’s concerns over lawsuits.

“The county should not play hot potato with their responsibilities, especially when it comes with taxpayer money funding affordable housing,” Johnson said. “Bill 111 opens up transparency, not lawsuits like the veto claims.”

In regards to extending the time period for qualified homebuyers from 90 to 120 days for unsold units, Johnson said the change ensures that buyers in each income category are given enough time.

He pointed out that another measure in the bill ensures financial counseling and stewardship for those on the interest list, which Johnson feels is important as fewer lower-income families can afford the rising rent prices.

As for putting long-term residents first, Johnson said that long-term residency “is a preference, not a requirement” in the bill.

He noted the bill was signed off by corporation counsel, the county’s attorneys.

“We all have to step out of our comfort zone and do this differently, because the status quo is not working,” Johnson said. “I do however, look forward to working with the council and administration to find creative solutions to Maui’s problems and change a system that is only exasperating our housing and homeless calamity.”

The council may reconsider the vote on the bill and may override the mayor’s veto, according to the agenda.

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

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