An affordable housing project planned for the island of Lanai has stalled, upsetting longtime residents who said there is a serious need for rental and for-sale units that average people there can afford.
But Maui County plans to ask the private sector for proposals to build the project.
On Lanai, it’s not unusual for two or three generations of people to live in a two- or three-bedroom plantation-era home with one bathroom. The current and past chairs of the Lanai Planning Commission know the affordable housing pressures there well.
"There is a huge need. People cannot afford to buy the houses that we have right now," said Kelli Gima, chair of the Lanai Planning Commission.
John Ornellas, who chaired the Lanai Planning Commission until this spring, said, "We've got two, three families living in a small two-bedroom, maybe 700 square-foot house. So, let's relieve the pressure."
For more than five years, Maui County has planned to build a 402-unit rental and fee simple affordable housing project on undeveloped land just outside Lanai City. It won so-called “fast-track” approval from the county in 2010.
The Maui County Council already set aside $2 million to plan and design the project, but the county has yet to spend any of that money.
The project stalled because the county would have to spend $7 million just to build sewer and water lines to the property, a huge expense, before any buildings were built.
Maui County’s director of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns, Carol Reimann, told Hawaii News Now, "We really sympathize with the residents of Lanai who are frustrated. We are so frustrated as well. These kinds of exorbitant costs are just difficult for us to work with"
Reimann said by the end of the year, the county will issue a "request for proposals," asking private developers to bid on the project.
"We are super hopeful that someone will come in with suggestions that will bring infrastructure costs down. Someone who can recommend changes such as restructuring the plan to make it even more affordable," Reimann added.
Longtime Lanai residents said Maui County should not balk at the high costs.
"We all pay taxes. Taxes are for government services. And this is a project that's been brewing for many, many years," said Robin Kaye, with the community group Friends of Lanai.
Another community activist, Butch Gima of Lanaians for Sensible Growth, said he was upset when Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa told him this during a meeting early this fall.
"And he says, well I got a thousand homeless on Maui, how can I justify an affordable housing project on Lanai. I said, 'Wait, wait, wait. Those are two separate issues, it's not an either or," Gima said he told Arakawa.
But the mayor's housing director pledges the project will move forward.
"This is important. We need to take care of our people on Lanai and this is something we need to figure out how to do," Reimann said.
Initial plans for the project call for 239 single family and 173 multi-family units that will be built in five phases, Reimann said. She could not provide an estimate of when the first phase will be completed.
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