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State Must Fund $350M for Mayor Wright Redevelopment Plan

Wayne Yoshioka

State lawmakers on a joint Legislative Housing Committee were briefed on a plan to build 2,500 public housing units in Honolulu. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

The State’s Hawai’i Public Housing Authority is planning to redevelop Mayor Wright Homes on the corner of North King and Liliha Streets next to downtown Honolulu.   The proposal would be to demolish the current low-rise structures and build a 2,500 unit, mixed use complex, with the highest buildings having more than 30 floors.  Public Housing Executive Director, Hakim Ouansafi, says families currently served in public housing have extremely low area median incomes or AMI.

“Almost all the folks we serve are 30 percent AMI or less.  We can’t take higher AMI.  So the average income for a family of Federal public housing is $12,487 per year.  And for a state housing the average is about $11-thousand a year.”

Ouansafi says there are more than 21-thousand families on the public housing wait list.  Hunt Companies is the approved developer for Mayor Wright Homes which would be 100 percent rental units with two-thirds offered at the affordable range.  But, Hunt Companies President for the Hawai’i Division, Steve Colon, says the state will have to commit a fairly large portion of that funding.

“Right now our order of magnitude for the total project cost is $1.3 billion.  But in order to make rental housing work, what we call the gap funding, that’s gonna be the subsidy required as roughly $145-thousand per unit.  So if you multiply that number out over 25-hundred units that’s obviously, it’s a big number.”

That total is 350-million dollars in state subsidies, according to the Public Housing Authority.   The project will be built in 5 phases over 10 years.   Hunt Companies would like to start the project by the end of 2018.   But, City and County of Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting Acting Director, Kathy Sokugawa, says that time table is not realistic.

“You’re not gonna get permits from the City in a year.  Tell you that right now.  So whatever’s required that comes out of the EIS, out of the County Council resolution that they’re required to perform.  To the extent that their contractors lined up, ready to go.  That their permit is perfectly written up, complete and able to be approved the minute they submit it.  All of those things will make the decision on the final schedule.”

The Mayor Wright Homes project would be the first to fall under future Transit Oriented Development rules.  But, Representative Daniel Holt, who represents the area, says one-third of the project will be for market rate rentals.

“I understand the market rate units being necessary.  But in our community meetings, none of that was discussed to the members.  So everybody in the community had no idea.  And then you guys came up and asked us for a bunch of money just before session ended and we got 34 percent market rate units.  Like I said, I understand that.  I’m stoked for the project.  But how do I go back and sell it to my constituents when I tell them we’re listening.”

The Public Housing Authority is scheduled to conduct a community meeting on the Mayor Wright Homes project, June 20th.   Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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