City seeks landowner incentives to build hundreds of affordable rentals

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
Updated: Feb. 6, 2019 at 5:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As skyscrapers were added to Honolulu’s skyline and “monster homes” sprouted up in residential neighborhoods, low rises in Makiki and Moiliili have decayed.

Now, Mayor Kirk Caldwell wants to change that. The aim: To build new affordable rentals.

“There’s single-family homes and the landowners are stuck. They can’t rebuild through the current zoning code,” said developer Derek Low.

That’s why Caldwell is introducing a bill to give landowners incentives to build new low rise apartments, which he says will create 500 new affordable rental units per year on top of the 800 he says the city is already churning out.

“That is a big promise and so we need to match it with incentives that gets it there,” said Kathy Sokugawa, acting director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting.

The five-year proposal includes allowing more units per lot, a 10-year real property tax exemption, sewer fee hook up waiver and a 90-day limited review process while elevators and parking wouldn’t be required.

New buildings would have to keep 80 percent of their apartments affordable for the life of the building.

"We know it works, we know it's safe, but it is different from what we've done in the past decades," said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Developers say with the new incentives, they’ve identified 10 to 15 landowners who could raze their properties and rebuild a new affordable apartment.

"This is not something new. It's done in Tokyo. They've all adjusted their codes and their zoning laws for these small buildings," said retired developer Marshall Hung.

Adding City Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine: “We’ll be getting more affordable housing into the market a lot faster while also benefiting the economy here on Oahu."

Developers say one to three bedrooms could easily rent for $1,000 to $2,000 per month. If the council agrees, planners envision the first permit applications by the end of the year.

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