Lawmakers weigh plan to borrow $2B for affordable housing

Lawmakers weigh plan to borrow $2B for affordable housing

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In Hawaii, few topics get people fired up faster than the high cost of housing.

"I think it's ridiculous!" said Oahu resident KC Bejerana.

Now, an ambitious plan to jumpstart construction on affordable units is gaining support.

Under a proposal before lawmakers, the state would approve $2 billion in bonds for new infrastructure and development.

"We're in what I believe is a housing crisis and the only way to get out of it is to build," said state Sen. Will Espero, vice-chairman of the Senate Housing Committee.

"We have enough state lands especially along the rail system where the state can initiate and push these affordable rental developments and keep the construction industry building for the next five to 10 years easily," Espero said.

Advocates and developers have floated similar plans in recent years.

And in the absence of a significant change to the market, Hawaii's housing crisis shows no signs of easing.

Over the last two years, only about 1,000 affordable rentals have been added to the market, the state said. That number falls far short of the 64,000 new housing units experts say Hawaii will need by 2025. Nearly a third of those need to be affordable.

Several residents Hawaii News Now spoke to Wednesday supported the plan.

"We have a problem. Tackle it or it's going to cost more," said Oahu resident Michael Lauck. "The rail project is a perfect example. It should have been built. It should have been done. And so should affordable housing."

But not everyone is a fan.

State Rep. Tom Brower likes the concept, but thinks $800 million is a more realistic number.

"There are so many other needy services that we have to fund I don't know the likelihood of the bill passing," he said.

Funds from the real estate conveyance tax and a portion of the rail tax would be used to repay the $2 billion in bonds.

Bejerana, though, said he thinks it should come from another pot.

"I think it should come from tourism," he said.

The proposal is set to go before two Senate committees next week.

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