Maui Affordable Housing Needed Now, Identified as Top Priority
By Wendy Osher
A council member on Maui has put forth a proposal to “stop the talk” and “start building affordable rental housing.”
Councilmember Michael Molina (Makawao, Haʻikū, Pāʻia) today put out a “Call to Action” proposal in the hopes that more affordable housing projects become a reality sooner rather than later.
“Let’s get something done now. We’ve put in all the financial resources. The past budget session we expanded the amount of funding for the affordable housing fund, the rental assistance fund,” said Molina, who is credited with helping to initiate the First Time Homebuyers Fund in the past.
“We also passed legislation to allow property owners who have lot sizes of less than 7500 square feet to now put ʻohana (units) upon their lots. It’s just a combination of programs and funding that we’ve put in place. Now it’s time to take action,” he said. According to Molina, the County is “at a crisis point.”
Administration: Housing is the Mayor’s Number One Priority
Acting Mayor Sandy Baz notes that the county council supported the mayor’s proposed increase towards the Affordable Housing Fund, adding their own increase as well. This will provide over $14 million in 2020.
“A total of 4% of our real property tax is going to be allocated specifically to affordable housing. The county charter requires 2%. So this additional 2% is going to really be there, financially, to support affordable housing projects that are generally done either with the county’s efforts or with non-profits or other groups that are working on affordable housing. So the financial piece is there,” said Baz.
“This is Mayor Victorino’s number one priority and something that we have been working on since before we took office,” said Baz. “He has done a number of initiatives to make affordable housing, really a priority at the administration level as well as with our community. We have created an Attainable Housing for Maui Nui working group… that meets individually with the departments as well as the director with the different developments that are happening,” said Baz, who also discussed a Housing Summit that is being planned.
“What Councilmember Molina has asked the county to do is really something we are already doing,” said Baz. “That is partnering with developers–looking and seeing what affordable housing availability really is there. We have projects that developers have approached us with and are going to be doing the design and planning phases.”
Projects in the works:
There are already plans underway to covert the old University of Hawaiʻi Maui College dorms into transitional housing. Affordable Housing Committee Chairwoman Tasha Kama and members of her committee took action to approve development of emergency housing at the location. Mayor Victorino and UHMC have agreed to terminate the County of Maui’s current lease to the university for the dorm property to transition to housing for Maui’s most vulnerable families.
There’s also an affordable senior housing project located off of Vevau Street in Kahului. Catholic Charities Housing Development Corporation broke ground on the first phase of Kahului Lani in November 2018. The two-phased master planned project features 165 units, with the first phase featuring a six story building with 81 rental units. It is located between the Kahului Foodland and Kahului Library on a parcel of land that was once used as a go-kart track. That project is slated for completion in 2020.
Another senior affordable housing project called Līloa, is planned in Kīhei under a partnership between Hope Chapel and Hale Mahaolu ʻEhiku. And in Lahaina, the administration is working with the State of Hawaiʻi on development of land near the Villages of Lealiʻi for affordable housing. They are reportedly planning an estimated 200 units and need the county to assist with tying-in infrastructure.
According to Baz, the county council will also be reviewing a proposal from a developer on the West Side to provide more affordable housing projects, with plans for a split between affordable housing and market value units in the Launiupoko area.
Molina Urges Admin to Make Hurdles “Less Burdensome”
For other projects, Molina is urging the administration to “make hurdles such as land costs and permit fees less burdensome.”
“Of course, the general impediments are the availability of land,” said Baz, noting that there is some county owned land that has been identified, including the UHMC old dorm property.
“All construction projects, especially government funded construction projects require environmental assessments and other laws and regulations and permits to be followed. So those kinds of things take time and effort, and so we cant flip a switch and have units built in a couple of months, it does take some time, but we are diligently working with them,” said Baz.
Molina’s proposal calls on the mayor to issue request for proposals, identify sites owned by the county that can be used, and issue grants ranging from $5 to $20 million to assist with design, infrastructure and construction.
“Whoever gets the award–so to speak–grants could be used from the Affordable Housing Fund to offset costs for the developers. We would waive many of the permit fees and also expedite the process,” said Molina.
“The affordability issue is certainly a big challenge right now, especially for our young families coming up with a down payment. I think the greater need now is the need for rentals. With the proliferation of short-term rental units, that reduces our inventory or long-term rentals. And it’s in my opinion, reached a crisis point,” said Molina.
Nearly 14,000 Units Needed by 2025
According to Baz, recent data shows that by 2025, there is an anticipated need of nearly 14,000 additional units in Maui County. That would include homes for ownership as well as rentals for various income levels.
“So we’ve got a ways to go,” said Molina. “I’m not sure if we’ll reach that mark, but we certainly need more than what we have now,” he said.