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Time for action, tangible results on affordable housing needed

CHAIR’S 3 MINUTES

Newly released data indicate that Maui County’s median home price has breached the $700,000 mark. This underscores, now more than ever, the need for additional affordable housing for residents.

The County Council continually seeks both effective and sustainable solutions, but they have not come easy.

In an effort to mandate affordable homes, a Residential Workforce Housing Ordinance was passed in 2006, requiring new developments to have at least 50 percent of their project be affordable homes. This law, although great in concept, placed the burden of affordable housing creation on private developers.

Many developers concluded building homes under these requirements was simply not viable and new inventory was stifled. Only one project moved forward and generated a net increase of only three single-family units.

The unintended consequences led the council to re-examine the law in 2014 and reduced the requirement to 25 percent. The results from the change must be closely monitored, but policy is only one piece of the puzzle.

Since 2008, the county has annually allocated 2 percent of real property taxes to an Affordable Housing Fund with the purpose of protecting and expanding affordable housing. In the early years, much of the fund was granted to entities such as Na Hale O Maui or Habitat for Humanity to assist with projects.

In 2012, the county took an additional step by using $3.85 million of the fund to purchase a property in Pukalani’s Kulamalu subdivision with the intent to develop affordable rental units.

The project broke ground in 2015 and has been under construction since February 2016. Planning and construction costs have totaled $13.4 million, of which $2.4 million has been covered by federal HOME Funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Once completed, the project will provide long-term rental housing for 56 income-qualified families and will be managed by Hale Mahaolu. The application process for the units generated over 400 interested residents.

A lottery was held to place families on the initial waiting list, and the Department of Housing and Human Concerns anticipates an early fall move-in date.

Providing an affordable place to live for these families is a step in the right direction, but this represents a very small piece of a much larger problem.

My concern continues to be how to best spend public funds allocated for affordable housing. The end goal must be to perpetuate and create additional affordable supply for a large segment of the community, not just a few.

Recycling public funds is the only way to spread this benefit. As Kulamalu opens its doors, the county can either count on the small excess rental income from the project to replenish the Affordable Housing Fund, which could take nearly 100 years to recoup, or we can think bigger.

How about evaluating the sale of the project to a private entity, which the county has done it the past, and use the excess funds to develop additional affordable projects?

A county strategic plan to address Kulamalu and the many other pieces of the affordable housing puzzle is sorely needed. Government, however, cannot solve this on its own and it will take cooperation from both the community and private developers.

As a result, the council set aside $250,000 to analyze the many elements of affordable housing and to create a blueprint with new ideas for our future.

Council Member Stacy Crivello, as the chair of the Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee, will lead the effort, along with gathering input from the community.

The time for real action is now. Leveraging assets to create additional housing supply is key. Tangible progress must be made or we risk pricing local residents out of the place we call home.

Mahalo.

* Mike White is chair of the Maui County Council. He holds the council seat for the Paia-Haiku-Makawao residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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