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Expedite attainable housing for our community

OUR COUNTY

Late last year, the Maui County Code was amended to increase the amount of accessory dwellings, known as ohana units, on residential or urban properties. This was aimed at increasing our housing inventory, especially for working families.

Now a property owner may build a single ohana on a property smaller than 7,500 square feet, and two ohana units are allowed on properties of 7,500 square feet or larger. On Molokai and Lanai, one ohana unit is permitted on properties that are 7,500 square feet or more.

The measure increased the permitted square footage of an ohana by 20 percent. For example, your 500-square-foot ohana can now be 600 square feet, or what used to be a 1,000-square-foot ohana can now be 1,200 square feet. Larger ohana units are more comfortable.

The amended ordinance also increased the size of open decks, allowed covered decks for the first time and expanded the size of carports.

Short-term rentals and bed-and-breakfast operations are not allowed in ohana units.

Some property owners still won’t be able to build ohana units because their lots are built out, or there’s inadequate infrastructure. Property owners may submit an application to the Department of Public Works for a building permit for a new ohana.

However, some property owners have already taken advantage of the new ordinance to build ohana units, and I’m hopeful more will do so. Again, these changes do not apply to farm dwellings in the agricultural district. Now, we are discussing possible changes to farm dwellings with farmers and ranchers to find out what they really need to support local agriculture.

Last year, the County Council and previous administration worked collaboratively to relax ohana unit rules for the benefit of our community. I remain hopeful that my administration can work in the same positive way with the current County Council. I agreed with council members who made attainable housing a priority in our fiscal 2020 budget.

However, there are a couple of attainable housing projects that remain stalled.

One is the 100 percent affordable, 89-unit Kaiaulu o Kupuohi Apartments in Lahaina. These units would be available for residents earning 60 percent and below area median income. Monthly rents would range from $443 to $1,333, depending on the size of the units — one, two or three bedrooms.

In July, the project received a favorable hearing before the council’s Affordable Housing Committee. It recommended referral to the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee, chaired by Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez.

In August, I submitted a budget amendment to add a proviso for $6,382,000 from the Affordable Housing Fund to support the project. On Sept. 5, the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee voted 6-0 to recommend passage on first reading. (Council Members Rawlins-Fernandez, Riki Hokama, Mike Molina, Tamara Paltin, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Shane Sinenci voted in favor, while council Chairwoman Kelly King and Council Members Tasha Kama and Alice Lee were excused.)

Since the committee’s action, a delay in the issuance of a committee report has prevented the project from moving forward. There was a Sept. 16 letter from the committee chairwoman with questions about the project. The Department of Housing and Human Concerns answered it in writing on Sept. 25. Department staff met with the council member and her staff in person on Oct. 1. Later, the developer spoke with Rawlins-Fernandez by phone on two occasions and responded to questions in writing.

Another delay has been with a proposed $5 million appropriation for the Habitat for Humanity project to build 25 units in Hana. The funding is for construction and new construction with an affordability period of 30 years. The project includes five units at or below 50 percent of the area median income, seven units at or below 60 percent AMI and 13 units at or below 100 percent AMI. That bill is pending before the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee. The committee is scheduled to take up the measure on Nov. 19.

I respectfully ask council members to expedite attainable housing for our community.

We need urgent action to prevent a future in which local people simply can’t afford to live here, at home.

* “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.