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Where’s the Affordable Housing?

Only one project has signed the Residential Workforce Housing Agreement now under review.

August 29, 2013
Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez - Contributing Writer (tominmaui@me.com) , Maui Weekly

Years ago, as two actors stared at a small piece of meat buried in the midst of a competitor's large hamburger bun, a famous fast-food commercial asked the question, "Where's the beef?"

And as the Maui County Council's Committee on Housing, Human Services and Transportation met on Thursday, Aug. 13, to begin a review of the county's Residential Workforce Housing Policy, many were asking, "Where's the housing?"

Chaired by first-term Councilmember and Molo-kai resident Stacey Crivello, the committee heard a report from JoAnne Ridao, the director of the county's Department of Housing and Human Concerns (DHHC), about the amount of affordable housing that has been produced since the housing ordinance was passed unanimously by the council over the veto of then-Mayor Alan Arakawa in 2006.

Article Photos

Councilmember Stacey Crivello chairs the Maui County Council Committee on Housing, Human Services and Transportation.

The Residential Workforce Housing Policy ordinance requires a review every two years. The committee's plan at Thursday's meeting was to catch up on the review process, find out if the law was working as intended, and to hear from testifiers and council members about whether there is a need for changes in the law.

In a one-paragraph report to the council committee from the DHHC, the department stated, "Pulehu Farms is the one and only project that has signed a Residential Workforce Housing Agreement. The Pulehu Farms project consists of 35 agricultural lots in Pulehu (Kula). The agreement calls for a total of 17 single-family units to be provided by the developer. The developer at the time of the signing of the agreement was KSD LLC. KSD has provided 14 single-family affordable units."

The project was recently sold to Kula resident Kyung Rae Kim of 'I'o Green LLC. The report states that DHHC is in the process of notifying the new owner of his obligation to provide the remaining three units.

Seven individuals offered testimony.

Alice Lee told the committee that the requirement of 40 to 50 percent of affordable housing units per development was too high. She suggested that the number of years a family was required to stay in an affordable home be reduced from the current requirement of 25 years and affordable rentals to be in the affordable pool for 25 years, not for the life of the building. Lee testified that the law needs incentives for developers to build affordable housing.

John Andersen, the executive director of Na Hale O Maui, an affordable housing land trust, agreed with Lee that the 25-year occupancy rule needed to be revisited when it came to homeownership. Saying that the big picture was whether or not consumers and developers were accepting the affordable housing law, Anderson told the committee that when it came to the purchase of single-family homes, "households earning 120 percent of median income will not accept a deed restriction." He recommended the committee explore the option of a seven- to 10-year deed restriction.

Former County Councilmember Danny Mateo testified that although the law might need tweaking, he suggested that the council should not "throw the baby out with the bathwater." He reminded the committee that the law was not responsible for the economic problems that significantly slowed home buying and building activity.

Richard Michaels, chair of the affordable housing committee for Maui Tomorrow, was a leader in the effort to pass the workforce housing legislation under review by the committee. In his testimony, Michaels agreed with Mateo that the reason housing has not been built is the economy--not the ordinance.

"Before economy went bad, Wailea 670 [Honua'ula] and Makena had already committed to almost 1,000 units," Michaels said. "Let's wait a few years to see if the ordinance works."

Michaels called for stronger enforcement of any affordable housing mandates required of developers. In response to a question from Councilmember Don Guzman, Michaels said that the percentage of affordable homes called for in a development could be lowered. However, when asked by Councilmember Don Couch about maintaining a 25-year deed restriction, Michaels indicated his support.

Following public testimony and the review from JoAnne Ridao of county activity under the Residential Work Force Housing Policy, council members discussed the next step, including an additional hearing to focus on suggested changes in the law.

Policy ideas raised by council members included having the county use the 2 percent affordable housing set-aside fund to build and sell homes (with an as-yet-to-be-determined deed restriction), changing the system for the county buyback of homes sold on an affordable basis, examining the length of the affordable deed restrictions on single-family homes and rental housing, modifying the percentage of affordable housing required of developers, monitoring the enforcement of affordable units required of a developer to ensure they are built and looking for ways to include incentives to build affordable rentals.

Crivello closed the meeting by saying that she "was open to changes if there were real flaws in the ordinance." She said she wants to find out "what is working and what is not" and asked Ridao to send the committee any recommendations for changes. A future meeting of the committee is planned.

For more information on Maui's affordable housing, contact the County Council's Committee on Housing, Human Services and Transportation at www.co.maui.hi.us and click on "Council Committees," call (808) 270-7838 or email hht.committee@mauicounty.us.

(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles about the state of affordable housing in Maui County following the Great Recession of 2008-09. Additional articles are expected to cover Section 8 subsidized housing, the results of the 2 percent affordable housing fund voter set-aside and possible changes to the existing Residential Workforce Housing Policy.

 
 

 

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