COUNCIL’S 3 MINUTES
By: Keani Rawlins-Fernandez
Published in the Maui News July 13, 2019
The 50 residential Maui Lani Fairways lots in Kahului have a long history of contention and debate that began in 2005 when thousands of tons of dirt were trucked in, converting a ravine into a hill and raising the elevation of the 13.5-acre property above some rooftops of the neighboring older houses along Palama Drive.
The county acquired the lots through an $11.7 million settlement a decade ago. They have been sitting vacant since then, accumulating hundreds of thousands of dollars in maintenance and holding costs.
While some may have viewed these lots as a burden to the county in the past, I see them as an amazing opportunity to build our community truly affordable units that will remain affordable forever through managed appreciation.
I envision three types of housing: 1) government-subsidized affordable housing; 2) housing built both under the Residential Workforce Housing Policy (Chapter 2.96, Maui County Code) and through the state’s Chapter 201H process; and 3) market-priced housing.
Council Member Alice Lee stated she believes government for too long has relied upon private developers to build affordable housing and that housing at 100 percent and below area median income (AMI) should be the responsibility of the county. I agree unreservedly with that sentiment.
I propose the county invest in land, put in necessary infrastructure, bid out projects we would like developed with the specific scope detailed, and sell the lots to income-qualified buyers at 100 percent and below AMI.
The price of the home would be truly affordable, as it is heavily subsidized by the county, eliminating the cost of the land and infrastructure. Thus, the home should remain affordable through deed restrictions, running with the land, that allow for moderate value appreciation, based on a formula we adopt.
I understand the rationale that first-time homebuyers deserve an opportunity to utilize home investment as a chance to progress financially, and buying into government-subsidized housing as a first home does not close the door to having that opportunity someday.
Managed appreciation for government-subsidized housing would help keep the homes affordable to the next deserving family needing assistance, while the original owners purchase their next home with an equitable down payment.
Our entire community agrees wholeheartedly that affordable housing is our most dire need. Land and infrastructure tend to be the largest hurdles when it comes to the cost and feasibility of development.
The 50 county-owned, residentially zoned Fairways lots offer us a primed and ready opportunity to establish a blueprint for success that truly affordable housing is possible and can be accomplished. I propose the Fairways lots become our pilot project for a new County of Maui government-subsidized affordable-housing development that remains affordable in perpetuity.
My office has done extensive research and worked side by side with other affordable-housing advocates to explore possible options for the Fairways lots, taking into consideration the lawsuit that initiated our acquisition in the first place.
We are looking at everything:
• Promoting ecofriendly and sustainable bamboo-style prefabricated homes.
• Planning to maintain long-term affordability through post and pier construction, creating ease of under-home access for future plumbing and electrical upgrades as they become necessary.
• Drafting deed restrictions that outline the appreciation formula.
• Working with local finance experts who specialize in mortgage brokering affordable homes for local families.
With this pilot project we have a viable opportunity to build up to 50 truly affordable homes, with up to 50 affordable ‘ohana rentals on each lot.
I am very excited to share my ideas with the community and plan to have a panel of partners who share my vision for this demonstration, county-run, affordable-housing project. Please join us in person or tune in to Akaku Channel 53 to watch my Economic Development and Budget Committee meeting on July 25 at 9 a.m.
You can share your mana’o by testifying at the beginning of the meeting or by submitting written testimony to EDB.firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Keani Rawlins-Fernandez is chairwoman of the council’s Economic Development and Budget Committee. She holds the council seat for the Molokai residency area.