‘Ohana Assistance Program holds promise for more affordable housing
By Alice L. Lee
On June 8, Bill 50 was signed into law to allow grants of up to $50,000 to be issued for the construction of small-sized housing units on properties with existing residences.
Under Ordinance 5525, the ‘Ohana Assistance Program can help those with available land and infrastructure to construct ‘ohana units in residential areas or second farm dwellings in agricultural areas.
Also known as accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, ‘ohana units can be between 500 and 1200 square feet, depending on the size of the lot. An ADU is defined in the county zoning code as “an attached or detached dwelling unit which is incidental or subordinate to the main or principal dwelling on a lot.”
Professional land-use planners and affordable-housing advocates, both locally and nationally, have been advising policymakers to support more ADUs. For instance, the AARP and the American Planning Association on May 26 jointly published a guide at planning.org called “Expanding ADU Development and Occupancy: Solutions for Removing Local Barriers to ADU Construction.”
The 2021 Maui County Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan recommended that the county help finance new units on properties that already are being used for housing. The ‘Ohana Assistance Program holds the promise of helping to fulfill this recommendation.
Five years ago, the council amended the zoning code to allow one ‘ohana unit on lots under 7,500 square feet and two ‘ohana units on lots of 7,500 square feet or larger on Maui. It also increased the maximum size of ‘ohana units and their decks, allowed ‘ohana units to have garages and made other changes to the Maui County Code to make ‘ohana units more desirable and livable.
With more properties eligible to construct or expand ‘ohana units, having grant funds available via the ‘Ohana Assistance Program should help increase available housing options for local families without excessive demands on public infrastructure and services because they will be a part of existing residential communities.
Details of the program will need to be discussed in the Housing and Land Use Committee to ensure the funds are used appropriately. The council has referred Bill 38 (2023) to the committee to enable further discussion of the program.
Possible requirements for the use of the fund include:
• ensuring applicants are long-time owner-occupants of the property where the ‘ohana units will be built;
• requiring ‘ohana units to be occupied permanently on a long-term basis;
• renting ‘ohana units at affordable rates in perpetuity;
• including a detailed budget with the submission of an application to demonstrate that the ‘ohana unit will be completed; and
• requiring that the funds are returned to the county, either fully or partially, if the property where the ‘ohana unit is constructed is sold prematurely.
The committee may also discuss the possibility of creating a dedicated funding source for this program. One possibility for funding the ‘Ohana Assistance Program may be to allocate a set percentage of real property tax revenue every fiscal year.
At its June 6 meeting, the council also agreed to amend the fiscal year 2024 budget to allocate $2.75 million to the ‘Ohana Assistance Program. It’s clear that affordable housing for our residents needs to be a priority, whether in the form of workforce housing, fast-track housing projects under Chapter 201H of Hawaii Revised Statutes or Chapter 2.97 of the Maui County Code, long-term rental options or other mechanisms.
The creation of this fund is one of many creative options the council is considering to enable our residents to remain in Maui County. I look forward to working out the ‘Ohana Assistance Program’s details and considering other initiatives for similar purposes with my colleagues on the council and the administration.
* Alice L. Lee is the Chair of the Maui County Council. She holds the County Council seat for the Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapū residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative and community matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.