Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Developers get funds
to offer cheap rent

Some senior citizens may remember when rent for a new one-bedroom apartment in Waikiki was $368 a month, or $310 in Kihei, Maui.

A few seniors soon will have the chance to pay rents that low.

Six developers were awarded $4.1 million in federal and state tax credits and $13 million in low-interest loans to provide 323 affordable housing rentals across Hawaii, including the oceanside communities of Waikiki and Kihei, state officials announced yesterday.

Five new affordable housing units are being built on Maui, Oahu and the Big Island. Another agreement keeps the Lihue Gardens Elderly Apartments on Kauai as an affordable housing project for another 50 years, according to the Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii.

"There is a critical need for more affordable housing rentals throughout the state, and these partnerships with private developers will increase the housing inventory to help meet this long overdue need," Gov. Linda Lingle said.

Five of the six affordable housing projects are for senior citizens, and one is designated for low-income families. Unlike public housing, the six projects will be built and operated by private companies.

The projects designated for seniors are: 2020 Kinoole Senior Residences in Hilo (30 one-bedroom units), Hale Mahaolu Ehiku in Kihei (34 one-bedroom units), Hualalai Elderly Housing Phase 3 in Kailua-Kona (30 one-bedroom units), Tusitala Vista (107 one- and two-bedroom units) and the Lihue Gardens Elderly Apartments (58 one-bedroom units).

Rent will be $700 and $800, but seven of the two-bedroom units will be offered for $363 a month for families making no more than 30 percent of the area median gross income, which the federal government considers as extremely low-income.

The only project for families, Palehua Terrace Phase 2, will be built in Makakilo. It will have 56 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units.

To qualify for Palehua Terrace, families must earn no more than 60 percent of the area median gross income, which is equivalent to about $40,000 for a family of four, said Marvin Awaya, of the Pacific Housing Assistance Corp., which will oversee the project.

He said many families that cannot afford decent housing in Hawaii are "doubling up" in homes, taking second or third jobs or "hanging on barely."

"When the median sales price of a home is in the neighborhood of half a million dollars and when the rental price for a one-bedroom unit on Oahu is over $900 per month, those kinds of rates make it difficult not only for elderly, but also working families," he said. "I'm afraid that will affect our economy in some point in time."

Not having adequate affordable housing will affect the economy because low-income wage earners, such as those in the service industry, will move away or stay away from Hawaii, he said.

"And with the low unemployment rate now, we have the perfect storm brewing," Awaya said.

Jean Brooks, of the nonprofit Hale Mahaolu Ekiku LP, said the new project in Kihei will alleviate some of the demand for affordable housing in the area.

"We have 11 developments on three different islands, yet we have never been able to get into the community of Kihei," she said. "We had many requests from citizens of Kihei to help with elder services, and with the cooperation and reception of these tax credits, we think we can finally get in there and do what the community of Kihei is requesting."

Lingle said the projects announced yesterday are not enough.

"We're going to have to repeat today's events many times over in the years ahead in order to make a dent in the demand for affordable housing," she said.



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