Plan eases affordable-home laws
Democrats propose low leases and developer exemptions
Trailer parks or tent cities developed without state or city land-use, zoning or other regulatory oversight could be built as state House Democrats unveiled their legislative proposal to increase the number of affordable rental housing units.
"I know it's very bold; it's controversial," said state Rep. Maile Shimabukuro, Housing Committee chairwoman.
The affordable-housing bill being offered by House majority members would allow either nonprofit or for-profit developers during a three-year period to obtain a long-term lease on state land for $1 a year, she said.
The bill also proposes allowing developers to have their affordable rental housing projects be exempt from planning, land-use, zoning, environmental impact statements and other county laws.
"And they can create unconventional housing -- anything from a normal apartment building to a trailer park to a tent city on that land," said Shimabukuro (D, Waianae-Makua).
The exemptions would be allowed for projects with 100 percent of units rented to households with no higher than 140 percent of median income.
The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. would administer the exemptions, including entering into regulatory agreements with developers.
Projects on ceded lands would also be required to make 20 percent of the units available to native Hawaiians.
Shimabukuro said that while the bill currently would exempt the projects from various regulatory laws, she would be more comfortable with the county having some oversight, which is currently the practice.
While applauding House Democrats for tackling Hawaii's affordable-housing crunch, city officials and others say the Legislature should proceed with caution on any proposal that exempts such projects from government oversight.
"I generally consider myself pro-business -- that does not mean carte blanche, a blank check to developers, that they should be allowed to pave over, asphalt every square inch of this island," said city Councilman Charles Djou, chairman of the Council Zoning Committee, "or put a tent city on every square inch of this island."
Jeff Mikulina, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, said the obstacle to more affordable housing is the reluctance of developers to live up to affordable-housing requirements.
"Frequently, they ask for relief from conditions that the state or county puts on them," he said, citing real-estate speculation as another problem driving up the cost of housing.
City Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall said alarms went off when she heard House Speaker Calvin Say mention the need to expedite the permitting process for affordable-housing projects in his speech during the opening of the Legislature on Wednesday.
"I'm a little concerned about that ... but on the other hand I share Speaker Say's concerns on the length of time it takes, and, of course, time is money when you're trying to build things economically. The longer it takes to get permission to do that, the more expensive it's going to be," said Marshall, who has appointed a subcommittee of members to brainstorm affordable-housing solutions.
Councilman Todd Apo, a member of the Affordable Housing Subcommittee, said the regulatory process could be expedited without removing it altogether. He also said the state and even the city should explore more financial incentives to encourage affordable-housing development.
Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.