Councilman proposes changes to affordable housing rules

Councilman proposes changes to affordable housing rules

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - For many owning a home in Hawaii is a goal, but it's not necessarily attainable. Today a city councilmember introduced his plans to change the affordable housing rules.

Overlooking Honolulu it seems like there is plenty of places to live. But the estimate is 2,900 units a year would have to be built to meet the demand for low to moderate income households.

Chris Blanc and Mai Watabe are both 29 year old. He's a chef. She's a medical assistant. Like many they want to buy a home but are hit by price.

"Everywhere I've researched its way above our price range," said Watabe, who lives in Makiki.

"There is a substantial need for more affordable housing," said Ron Menor, Honolulu City Councilmember.

Councilmember Menor hopes to help people like them by changing the rules on affordable housing. His plan would force developers to increase the number of affordable units built and require developers to have affordable rentals. And they would have to stay affordable for 30 years rather than just 10.

"If the developer wants to meet city requirements then they need to deliver and build truly affordable homes say in the $300,000 price range, and not these $700,000 homes," said Menor.

He says the problem is affordable housing now isn't really affordable because a developer can sell a home between $600,000 and $700,000 and still be considered affordable.

"That's simply ridiculous. That's a major loophole in our affordable housing policy," said Menor.

"We have the highest cost of rental housing in the country. We have a minimum wage $7.25, it's impossible to pay the market rate," said Jenny Lee, Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, which is a nonprofit that supports developing more affordable housing.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell supports affordable housing, but wants to find a balance because if too many restrictions are placed on developers they won't build at all. Then prices go up more and the middle class is also priced out.

Mayor Caldwell says he looks forward to the discussions which will begin at the zoning committee meeting next month.

"I want to at the economics of this whole thing because we've seen examples of mandates have been imposed and then no development occurs, no housing is built. If we don't have housing built the product that's here just goes up in value," said Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Mayor.

And couples like Blanc and Watabe will never afford their piece of paradise.

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