CHAIR’S 3 MINUTES
Published in The Maui News on March 5, 2017
By ELLE COCHRAN
Chairing the County Council’s Temporary Investigative Group on Increasing Housing Inventory last year has given me more clarity about steps needed toward solving our housing crisis.
Monday at 1:30 p.m., the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, which I also chair, will consider one recommendation put forth by the TIG: to prioritize development of off-site infrastructure to reduce pass-through costs.
The cost of improving off-site infrastructure has been identified as a major contributor to the high cost of housing. The Maui County Code requires developers to bear the full burden of the cost of improving off-site infrastructure. This is one big reason why a two-bedroom, one-bath home can cost half-a-million dollars.
A sizeable portion of a project’s budget goes to developing off-site infrastructure like water and sewer improvements, traffic lights, drainage, curbs, gutters, roadways and bike lanes.
For example, the 100 percent affordable Kenolio Apartments in Kihei, which was approved in October 2015, is having problems because of off-site infrastructure requirements, according to our county housing administrator. That’s 184 rental units desperately needed by our community that are on hold.
If the county could make a stronger commitment to fund and develop its own infrastructure rather than rely on private developers, we would encourage the construction of more units and bring housing costs down.
To get a clearer understanding of the problem, some departments were requested to provide a list of infrastructure needs that would support affordable housing. With budget sessions starting at the end of the month, how can we determine which infrastructure projects to prioritize?
With different requests presented to the committee, it is our goal to ensure that our taxpayer dollars are used appropriately and consistently with existing laws.
Where will the money come from for the needed infrastructure? The committee looked at the existing Affordable Housing Fund where 2 percent of our real property taxes go, amounting to about $5 million per year. The Maui County Code states that the purpose of the fund is for “rehabilitation of existing structures, land purchase or other acquisition of land or property entitlements, planning, design, and construction.” So it remains unclear whether we can use this fund to pay for off-site infrastructure costs.
There are also questions whether a private developer can use those funds.
This is why I’m introducing a bill that would specifically establish an Affordable Housing Infrastructure Capital Improvement Reserve Fund to be utilized for off-site infrastructure improvements. Funding will come in the form of a grant that developers can apply for, with specific criteria and qualification requirements that the council would consider and review within 60 days.
Without a similar grant recently funded by the council, a nonprofit affordable housing project in Wailuku would not have moved forward due to the high cost of required off-site waterline improvements.
A copy of the bill is available on mauicounty.us/agendas.
If approved, the council may determine how much money is appropriated into that fund during the upcoming budget sessions. This off-site infrastructure grant will achieve a public-private partnership to facilitate quick completion of much-needed housing units.
This proposal is one of many ways to approach the housing crisis. I urge the community to submit testimony and suggested improvements to the legislation to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* Elle Cochran holds the County Council seat for the West Maui residency district. She is chairwoman of the Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.