City must keep promise of low rents in projects' sales
Mayor Hannemann has announced that the city will put all of its 12 housing properties on the market.
RESIDENTS of the city's 12 housing projects can't be blamed for feeling uneasy about Mayor Mufi Hannemann's decision to sell the properties
. With sky-high rents prevalent and units in scarce supply across Oahu, those who call the 1,257 low-cost apartments home would have a tough time finding other places to live.
Though the mayor vows that the properties won't be sold unless rents are kept low, residents and the City Council should stay alert as the sales progress, and the administration should keep them informed to avoid conflict and misunderstanding.
The projects on the block vary greatly, from the Marin Tower on Nimitz Highway with 236 apartments built in 1994 to the historic 1938 Bachelor's Quarters in Ewa with just 10 units. The five properties in Chinatown would ordinarily be desirable to investors because of their proximity to downtown, but low-rent deed restrictions make sales problematic.
The mayor acknowledges the city's rent-limit conditions will be a hurdle. That's why sales will go in phases, with Kulana Nani, a 160-unit property, going on the market first.
The administration has identified Kulana Nani, the only facility on the Windward side, as its most difficult offer because it sits on land leased from Kamehameha Schools, has federal rent restrictions and needs extensive repairs.
If the city can clear these obstacles, the administration believes selling the other properties might go easier. However, the city might confront dissimilar issues when it offers buildings that house elderly residents, such as those at West Loch and Manoa Gardens.
Hawaii's problem with homelessness and affordable housing has largely been taken on by the state government. When the city first began talking about ridding itself of housing properties, the Legislature proposed that the state housing agency buy them, but the agency has had its own problems with managing public projects.
Like many other municipalities, the city has long sought to get out of the housing game, dissolving its housing agency about seven years ago. The mayor says the city has neither the money nor the capability to maintain the projects, spending $3.5 million a year to provide for upkeep and still not being able to do all the necessary work.
Whether new owners can do more with less might not be possible either, but Hannemann says taxpayers can't afford to keep paying the bills when there are other priorities, like the proposed mass transit project. Nonetheless, city officials should weigh whether taxpayers have an obligation to help needy residents.