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Overregulation will lead to even less affordable housing

OUR COUNTY

As your mayor, I wholeheartedly support the development of attainable and affordable housing, including low-cost rentals for our residents. Housing availability and supply are essential to sustain and grow our workforce and protect our social and economic future.

The Maui County Council has labeled Bill 10 as the “affordable housing bill,” even though nearly every economic and affordable housing expert testified this bill will produce very few homes for our residents.

Even the council’s own consultant, Hawaiian Community Assets, a respected community organization the council contracted for $300,000 to develop an affordable housing plan, urged them not to move forward with Bill 10. Yet the council still pushed ahead with an affirmative vote.

Hawaii Community Assets’ draft recommendations call for streamlining land zoning regulations and improving predictability in planning, permitting and council review processes. The draft goes on to say, the council’s “approval processes lead to derailment of the project and having to repeat the process, adding time to development and increasing costs dramatically.”

Bill 10 adds another unwelcome layer of regulation and bureaucracy to existing homebuilding processes. Overregulation delays projects, raises costs and won’t fill our urgent need for an array of affordable housing options.

According to the bill, home-builders seeking “fast-track” approvals must build at least 75 percent of planned residential units for very-low through above-moderate income households, unless a lower percentage is approved by council resolution.

The council voted 6-3 to pass Bill 10, but it’s notable that the three opposing votes came from Maui County Council chair Alice Lee, a former director of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns; Council Member Tasha Kama, past chair of the council’s Affordable Housing Committee; and Council Member Yuki-Lei Sugimura, chair of the Infrastructure and Transportation Committee. All three watched a similar measure passed in 2006 fail spectacularly. It yielded just three workforce homes after eight years.

Teachers, nurses, firefighters, farmers, small business owners, young professionals and visitor industry workers are truly essential. They keep our community safe and strong and we need to keep them here. All will be hurt by Bill 10 because local affordable homebuilders cannot afford the cost, or time, to build the housing they need.

With the median price of a single-family home on Maui now at $960,000, even those with deep family roots here are considering moving away. Sadly, a lack of appropriately priced housing is creating a new group of economic refugees in search of financial relief elsewhere.

During the pandemic, buyers with offshore money came to our community to buy up our limited housing inventory. Some came seeking a beautiful work-from-home location. Others came to purchase investment properties. Still others came to fulfill a dream of retiring on Maui. Whatever their reasons, their wealth allowed them to move to the front of the homebuyers line to further deplete our meager housing inventory. If Bill 10 becomes law, very few affordable homes will be built because it will hinder the development of new workforce housing. Limited supply means we can expect the price of a Maui home to skyrocket into the seven-figure range. Who can afford that?

It’s not too late to contact your council member to ask them to fully consider the effects of Bill 10.

Maui County government must and can do better. We can streamline the approval process for workforce housing and commit to building more infrastructure for desired development. We can expedite a costly permitting and review process bogged down by reams of well-intentioned environmental and building codes and administrative inefficiencies. We can think creatively and repurpose existing buildings as we did by transforming the abandoned UHMC dorms into transitional homes for low-income families. We can rezone existing county-owned lands for workforce housing in partnership with nonprofit or community-minded developers. We can work together to transform a culture of “no” to one of “let’s get it done.”

Every group, including my administration, the County Council, the state, our residents, special interest and anti-development groups, social service agencies, nonprofits, developers, bankers and realtors have a role to play if we are to stem the tide of family, friends and neighbors leaving Maui in search of an affordable home elsewhere.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government.

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