Mayoral Candidates Differ on How to Address Maui’s Housing Crisis
As we look to the General Election on November 8, let us consider the contrasting approaches of our Mayoral candidates, based on their responses to a number of questions asked, as printed in the September 15 issue of The Fil-Am Voice. The top issue across our County and State is affordable housing, which immediately prompts the question of what is “affordable.” In the past, we were guided by the logic of one-third of income for shelter. That does not apply in Hawai‘i where most residents spend about half of their income on housing, and results in the need for more than one job to meet other living expenses. Yet another overlay is the decision by numerous families to combine their income to qualify for mortgage loans plus the lack of available units for either rent or purchase.
We voters are already familiar with the current mayor’s action style and his responses provide the details of past accomplishments, as well as rationale for what is still in process. In contrast, the opposition candidate presents alternative options.
Here is a summary and few highlights of mayoral candidates’ responses to Fil-Am Voice’s pointed questions to addressing Maui’s housing crisis—there are clear contrasts between the two candidates: resulted-oriented versus understanding the roots of the housing crisis.
Voters need to decide which of the candidates that can truly deliver workforce housing to Maui’s hard-working families.
How many units for workforce housing needs?
Victorino provides a chart of numbers in the categories of completed, in construction, pending, and lot only. If reelected, he expects a minimum of 10,230 new housing units to be developed, of which 5,756 will be affordable.
Bissen believes we need to understand who is in the housing crisis and wants to know why there is a lack of inventory, if developers are serving our kama‘āina, why the delays in the permitting process, and reminds all to think about … “If we build 5,000 units and sell 4,000 to people from outside the state because locals are not able to afford them, then what have we done?”
Where will these workforce units be constructed?
Victorino says that the majority of units will be built in Central Maui (Kahului, Wailuku, Waikapū) with a few in South Maui, West Maui, Hāli‘imaile, Hāna and Lāna‘i.
Bissen encourages beginning with plans already in place, with a caveat to not spend money on studies, if we will not follow what is suggested.
When to develop these workforce units?
Victorino refers to the varying stages of development: some are already being constructed; many will break ground after the completion of the wastewater reclamation facility, some are pending SMA permits and/or approval for subdivisions, and many of the affordable units are included as part of larger projects.
Bissen wants development to begin as soon as is feasible by moving forward with permits, existing plans and applications. A crisis requires streamlining the process, allocating funding, and repurposing uses of existing vacant commercial properties.
What is the price range/area median income?
Victorino bases guidelines as established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in which affordable rents are based on 30 percent of gross monthly income. For example, depending upon specific variable, the lowest purchase price for a 1-bedroom unit will range between $150,000 to $479,000. There are some price variances among units depending upon location in Hāna and the three major islands of Maui County.
Bissen urges an open discussion to create a win-win procedure in conjunction with policy makers at all levels of government, and further suggests the possibility of considering factors of matching applicant’s income, along with a flex zoning allowance for developers to make real time changes.
What obstacles are preventing development?
Victorino cites four: requirements for infrastructure, delays in the permitting process, complex zoning and building codes, and additional conditions for developers from the County Council.
Bissen points to water, cost of land, lack of good-paying jobs, which causes 60 percent of the workforce to be locked out.
Do you support the split of the Department of Housing and Human Concerns?
Victorino supports this amendment if it comes with adequate staffing to provide effective delivery of the social services.
Bissen supports this action on the condition that there be no additional costs.
Clearly, the need for affordable housing is in crisis mode. Funding and government bureaucracy are major factors why we have this crisis facing Maui today. As you cast your ballots during this general election, make sure that the candidate that deserves your vote will, in fact, address and deliver the affordable housing units for Maui’s hard-working families. Our collective votes will make a dramatic difference. General Election 2022 is only six weeks away!