Strides toward affordable housing for local residents
By Gabe Johnson
As a former member of the working poor who’s lived on Lānaʻi in low-income housing as a single father, I know the struggle of trying to make ends meet in a housing crisis.
That is why I have made it my mission during my first council term to work with my colleagues and the community on legislation that creates truly affordable housing for residents. I have used the policy priorities from the 2021 Maui County Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan to tackle the biggest barriers when it comes to providing more affordable housing.
I am proud of the work council has accomplished during my time as chair of the Affordable Housing Committee. The first legislation I introduced as chair was Bill 111, now Ordinance 5315, an omnibus bill that tackled several much-needed recommendations from the Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan to change the way we handle the sale of affordable-housing units.
It’s clear that we have an issue with off-island buyers eating up our limited housing. The new law ensures that our local people are given preference in the affordable-housing lottery system based on the total length of time each applicant has been a resident of the county and requires developers to offer unsold units back to the county to prevent units being flipped at market rate.
This legislation creates a county-managed centralized database of residents interested in workforce-housing units, putting the onus on the county—not developers—to ensure fairness. This new system will be used to publicize workforce-housing developments, their requirements and eligibility criteria and, importantly, available resources to help residents better prepare for home ownership or rental opportunities.
Another piece of legislation that I’m proud of is Ordinance 5369, which follows recommendations from the plan’s Policy Priority 2. Through this law, the council expanded the possibility of using the Affordable Housing Fund for a broader range of costs associated with developing dwelling units.
Infrastructure improvements are a major roadblock to building affordable housing. Ordinance 5369 allows the county to provide comprehensive infrastructure assessments, taking the burden off developers and allowing them to keep home prices as low as possible.
For the current fiscal year, the council increased the Affordable Housing Fund’s appropriation to $58 million, following Policy Priority 5 and accomplishing the first strategy recommended to reach the Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan’s goals, priorities, and targets:
“Expansion of the Affordable Housing Fund to provide sufficient funds for community serving infrastructure and housing supports for local renters and homebuyers.”
This appropriation is a major step in putting our money where our mouth is when it comes to building affordable housing.
Another one of my bills, which passed out of council last month, follows Policy Priority 8 to update the county’s rent and sales price guidelines to promote equity and access to affordable mortgage financing for all our residents. Bill 107 creates new methods of determining the sales price of affordable dwelling units ensuring homebuyers access to Federal Housing Administration loans, that are more forgiving of lower credit scores and smaller down payments.
Homebuyers of affordable units, starting May 2023, will pay no more than 31 percent of their gross annual income on total housing costs including principal, interest, real property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, mortgage insurance and homeowners’ association dues. This cap is made possible by language in the bill that guarantees subsidies, either going directly to the developer to bring the unit’s price down or to the homebuyer via the Home Acquisition and Ownership Programs Revolving Fund.
Looking ahead, I am working on legislation that will follow Policy Priority 3 to streamline the planning and permitting process for 100 percent affordable projects and the Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan’s strategy to create by-right affordable housing to further expedite the development of units with prices within the reach of Maui County residents.
Please consider attending an upcoming Affordable Housing Committee meeting, virtually or in person, to share your manaʻo as we continue to work together for solutions to the housing crisis.