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How each Hawaiʻi mayor plans to tackle the housing crisis on their island

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From growing development funds to building housing for specific groups of people, mayors across the Hawaiian Islands are focusing their attention on housing initiatives this upcoming fiscal year.

During state of the county addresses, all four mayors outlined some of their proposals.

Maybe the biggest investment, or redirection in funding, is coming in Maui, where Mayor Richard Bissen, in his first term, plans to expand the county’s Affordable Housing Fund. County statute states the fund takes a minimum of 3% of real property tax revenue.

"My proposed budget includes an 8% contribution," Bissen announced last week.

That’ll grow the fund significantly, from $3 million to $43 million. The expanded investment will help the county continue the strides in development that have been made over the past few years.

"In the past 3 years, nearly 1,256 units in the West Maui Haʻiku, South Maui and central Maui areas have been completed," Bissen said. "There are 13 housing projects currently in different stages of readiness that will offer over 2,660 affordable housing units. It takes a few years for a housing development to reach the point where the keys to a new home are presented to the homeowner."

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi has called housing one of the city’s "wicked" problems.

Over the years he’s led an Affordable Housing Working Group that has identified state funding and created new programs.

Aside from incentives and bond programs to fund rehabilitation and development, the city has site developments island-wide, from Waikiīkī to Waiawa.

"The city is also in due diligence on two additional properties: one, in ʻEwa Beach, totaling 100 units, and a four-acre parcel in Iwilei with extraordinary potential for a proposed development of an iconic TOD complex, with the potential for 1,000 affordable housing units or more, as well as commercial mixed-use retail and a park-and-ride for rail," he said.

Hawaiʻi Island Mayor Mitch Roth said the county will see affordable housing developments that target specific groups.

That includes the Hale Na Koa 'O Hanakahi project on Kahili Street in Hilo, which the county broke ground on this year for veterans and surviving spouses. 

This 92-unit senior affordable housing project was built in partnership with the Hawaiʻi Island Veterans Memorial Group has been 16 years in the making.

"We plan to break ground on an additional eight projects that will add an additional 778 affordable housing units to the market soon after," Roth said.

And on Kauaʻi, Mayor Derek Kawakami will expand existing supportive housing.

"We look forward to building a second Ke Alaula housing project at Lima Ola and expanding the original Ke Alaula in Līhu‘e in partnership with the state," Kawakami said. "This model of supportive housing has helped dozens of families successfully transition into permanent housing."

Working with private developers, the county will set its own record for new homes, and create a multimillion-dollar economic impact.

"This will have an economic value of roughly $216 million of job creation and money flowing through our local economy and more important than generating money and jobs is the fact that we are building roofs over the heads of 400 local families," Kawakami said.

Sabrina Bodon is Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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