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Collaboration needed to make affordable housing a reality

OUR COUNTY

It’s encouraging to see support building for construction of direly needed housing, especially for working families struggling to make ends meet.

With such a great need, it’s tempting to support any housing project, and to see setbacks as missed opportunities.

In July, six of nine County Council members voted against two workforce housing projects in Launiupoko — Polanui Gardens and Makila Rural-East. These projects would have provided nearly 100 workforce units above the Lahaina bypass. I understand there were concerns, and I share them. We need quality housing projects for healthy communities.

Our Department of Housing and Human Concerns’ Strategic Housing Plan is a policy framework, not a list of pending projects. It includes policies such as prioritizing resources for those with the greatest need and removing roadblocks, with my administration’s Attainable Housing Maui Nui Working Group. My team is working hard to explore all viable options, including purchasing land for larger-scale housing developments and partnering with groups like the Hawai`i Community Foundation.

Last month, I submitted a proposed budget amendment to the County Council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee to appropriate nearly $6.4 million (up from the originally proposed $3 million) from the county Affordable Housing Fund for the 89-unit Kaiaulu O Kupuohi Apartments project in West Maui. Targeted for families earning at or below 60 percent of the area median income, this rental project was originally in my 2020 budget proposal. It was referred to the Affordable Housing Committee and then back to the budget committee. On Thursday, the committee recommended passage of the proposed bill on first reading by the full council. Mahalo.

On July 10, I submitted to the council a proposal to use $5 million from the Affordable Housing Fund for a Habitat for Humanity project in Hana. Funding would pay for land acquisition and construction of 25 single-family homes with a 30-year affordability period. Thankfully, the council chairwoman finally agreed to put the proposal on Friday’s council agenda.

Also on Friday’s agenda was my proposed bill to enter into an intergovernmental agreement with the state to support our 12-unit rental housing project in renovated buildings at the former University of Hawaii Maui College dorm. Plans call for developing another 50 units there.

Under the bill, $865,000 in Ohana Zone funding would be used for operations and resident support services. A separate $5 million in state funding will come from the Hawaii Housing Finance & Development Corp. for building renovations.

In Lahaina, the HHFDC is making progress in negotiations with property owners to maintain affordable rents for 250 low-income residents of Front Street Apartments. The state agency also has a $30 million appropriation from the Rental Housing Revolving Fund for gap-equity financing to expedite construction of 200 multifamily units for the Keawe Street Apartments project.

In Central Maui, the first phase of Catholic Charities Hawaii’s Kahului Lani affordable senior housing project is nearing completion. On Feb. 1, residents will be able to move into the first 80 units, and hopefully open up housing inventory.

Meanwhile, there’s unfinished business. For example, I asked the County Council in March to consider a resolution authorizing the sale of three Sandhills Estates lots. Selling the lots would generate money that could be used for more housing. The resolution remains stuck in the budget committee. The county’s cost of holding on to the lots, including homeowners’ association dues, have risen to more than $100,000.

Our current housing crisis has developed over decades, leaving a shortfall of thousands of units. We need to chip away at this problem and not wait for perfect projects.

Waiting takes a toll. We all know friends or family who’ve moved away because they can’t afford to live here. Hawaii’s high cost of living is aggravated, if not driven, by high housing costs. To survive, many people work two, three jobs, or live with multiple families under the same roof.

This tears at the fabric of our community. Our people need housing built, and built quickly. I support public-private partnerships, with Maui County overseeing projects that meet our needs.

Finger-pointing is counterproductive. Let’s be collaborative and bring innovative solutions forward to make attainable housing a reality.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.