Mayors ask
for housing aid

Funding for affordable units
and homeless shelters are sought

Hawaii's mayors came to the state Capitol yesterday to make their annual plea to the Legislature, asking them to finance affordable housing, a new water well and the fight against invasive species.

"I know some of the financial difficulties of the state government. I wouldn't take your problems for all the tea in Korea," said Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim, who is of Korean ancestry. "But I do ask you to take a look at ours."

While the neighbor island mayors were there to make their requests in person before the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees, the new kid on the block, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, was in Washington to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors' winter meeting.

Hannemann was expected to meet with transportation officials, congressional leaders and federal officials. He will also attend President Bush's inauguration tomorrow.

All four counties are struggling with the downside of higher property values, including finding more affordable housing for residents. The mayors want lawmakers to help fund more affordable housing units, and provide shelter for the homeless.

"I think almost everything we talk about one way or another reflects or falls back to housing situations," Kim said.

Kauai Mayor Bryan Baptiste is asking for nearly $2 million for several housing projects -- an emergency homeless shelter, affordable rental apartments, and a housing study.

"We're asking you to be just part of the picture to making all this come to fruition. We will do our part ... to create ways to keep that housing in the affordable housing pool," he said.

Kim is asking for $6 million to drill a water well in Ka'u, where residents catch rainwater or haul potable water for miles to their homes. A water well could help develop thousands of residential lots where land prices are still more affordable than other parts of the state, Kim said.

City Budget Director Mary Pat Waterhouse, the acting mayor while Hannemann is out of town, said that while the city will be reaping more money as a result of higher property values -- $83 million more in tax revenue next fiscal year -- higher fixed costs for construction debt, retirement and health coverage will use up all but $1 million.

"We will not realize any surplus," Waterhouse said.

Kim and Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa are also asking for more state funding to combat invasive species such as miconia and coqui frogs, the tiny amphibians with the loud chirping-like call.

"It is an absolute threat to our environment," Arakawa said.

Kim has declared a state of emergency on the Big Island over the coqui invasion. "If you have not heard the coqui ... I think you would be shocked -- the word is not surprised -- you would be shocked at how it is affecting people's lifestyles," he said.

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