By Jim Mendoza| July 2, 2014 at 10:16 PM HST - Updated July 9 at 9:52 PM
The Marin Tower on North Nimitz Highway has 236 rental units. It's one of twelve city-owned affordable housing projects.
Some of the apartments are empty but are being maintained with taxpayer money. Same at the Chinatown Gateway Plaza and Harbor Village. Among the three, about 30 units are going un-rented.
"If you have people in the middle-income range who are eligible and who qualify, let's allow them to get into the buildings because then it saves taxpayer money," City Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga said.
But for whatever reason that's not happening. Fukunaga said the buildings were designed to be for renters across a broad income range. But most of the units go to lower income earners. The benchmark is a single person with an annual income of $40,000 or less.
Chinatown Community Center Association president Wes Fong said that's hurting Chinatown businesses because people who live in the affordable housing units have less spending money.
"What you're creating really is, and I hate to say it, but you're creating a low income ghetto. It's already a rental ghetto," he said.
Fukunaga authored Resolution 14-121. She wants the city to allow people with incomes as high as $55,000 to rent the empty apartments. She said those people would have more money to spend in Chinatown stores.
"We want to restore a balance in Chinatown," she said.
But Chinatown store owner Paul Min is skeptical.
"Those people usually work late. We close early. That's another key factor there," he said.
He believes the bigger problems Chinatown merchants face are homelessness and not enough public parking.
Fukunaga agrees those are issues, but thinks her rental idea could be a game changer.
"It really could mean the difference between the area really going into an economic tailspin," she said.
Fukunaga said her plan won't displace low income renters who live in the Chinatown buildings. She said it would add tenants who have a little more money, and fill a void that's costing taxpayers money.