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Discussion to continue on county’s workforce housing policy

On Thursday at 1:30 p.m., the County Council’s Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee, which I chair, will continue its deliberations on amendments to the residential workforce housing policy.

In eight previous meetings, the committee received testimony from a large segment of the community. The prevalent view is that affordable housing for working families is close to nonexistent.

There is a high demand to amend existing law – Chapter 2.96 of the Maui County Code – which I’ve heard several times labeled as “not working.”

The residential workforce housing policy was written with clear and noble intentions, requiring developers to build a percentage of their projects to accommodate the income levels of working families. This balances luxury development with affordable-housing opportunities for residents.

As stated in Chapter 2.96, “The resident workforce is leaving the County in search of affordable housing, and new employees are being deterred by the high cost of living.” The law’s stated intent is to “encourage the provision and maintenance of residential workforce housing units.”

According to testimony, though, developers have found the requirements to be a hindrance that actually discourages home construction. Since the law’s enactment in 2006, there has been only one project with a signed residential workforce housing agreement.

The agreement called for 17 affordable single-family units. Fourteen units were constructed, but only three were able to be sold at affordable rates, with the balance sold at market rates.

The Department of Housing and Human Concerns recently convened a task force composed of representatives from the nonprofit, construction and development sectors of our community. On Thursday, the committee will consider a bill that incorporates the task force’s recommendations.

The requirement for developers to build affordable workforce housing would be reduced from 50 percent of the total units in the project to 25 percent of the fair-market units, with the affordable homes allowed to be built either on or off the project site. Reducing the requirements may incentivize landowners to build homes.

Adjusting income requirements and better defining what is “affordable” for a working family are other issues the committee will consider to make the legislation work. The law is intended to provide housing for our “workforce,” such as hotel workers, teachers, police officers and firefighters, along with students and special housing target groups.

According to the Maui Island Plan, we need to build 30,000 new homes in the next 15 years to keep up with predicted population growth just on the island of Maui. An improved residential workforce housing policy can be instrumental in making sure we meet that goal, while providing the best quality of life to keep our families together and ensure our keiki can stay home.

Submit your testimony to hht.committee@mauicounty.us, referencing HHT-11.

Mahalo.

* Stacy Crivello holds the County Council seat for the Molokai residency area. She is the chairwoman of the Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.

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