Some skeptical that new charter rule will spur affordable housing development

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Oahu voters overwhelmingly approved Tuesday a charter amendment aimed at spurring the construction of new, low-income rental units.

But developers aren't convinced the amendment will actually address Oahu's lack of affordable housing.

Charter Amendment no. 5 asked voters:

  • Should the Affordable Housing Fund be used to develop rental housing for persons earning 60 percent or less of the median household income, provided that the housing remains affordable for at least 60 years?

Some 65 percent of Oahu voters approved the amendment, while 28 percent opposed the measure and the rest left the question blank.

Advocates hope the new rule for the city's Affordable Housing Fund will entice developers to build more affordable units by reducing the length of time they must stay below market value.

Instead of a unit remaining affordable forever, the rental will be able to go to market price after 60 years.

"The charter commission was very concerned about homelessness and providing affordable housing," said Kevin Mulligan, vice chairman of the Honolulu Charter Commission. "It's one of the major issues confronting Honolulu and we tried to address that. There is a balance that we're trying to achieve and hopefully it strikes a sweet spot for the development of affordable housing."

It's estimated Honolulu will need 25,000 new affordable units by 2025.

Developer Stanford Carr says there's no way the new charter amendment will actually make that happen. In fact, he thinks the 60-year window may be a deal breaker.

"You would think the city would try to make it attractive and incentivize developers and at least be consistent by the 30 year affordability that's required by the federal low income tax program," Carr said.

The charter commission tried to craft the amendment with all parties in mind.

"We're not going to be able to please everyone but I think we tried to strike a balance and recognize the importance developers play in affordable housing," Mulligan. said.

The Affordable Housing Fund currently has $36 million available for developers. The amendment took effect as soon as it passed.

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