Mayor cou­ples hous­ing and rail

He pro­poses of­fer­ing in­cen­tives to build more af­ford­able units near train sta­tions

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL & BUSINESS - By Jayna Omaye jo­maye@starad­ver­

Mayor Kirk Cald­well made his pitch for more af­ford­able hous­ing and fin­ish­ing the city’s trou­bled rail pro­ject at his fifth State of the City ad­dress Thurs­day evening. “If we don’t change the course that we’ve been on for a long pe­riod of time, this is­land be­comes a gated com­mu­nity, only af­ford­able to an ex­clu­sive few,” Cald­well said be­fore about 175 peo­ple at Honolulu Hale. “The fun­da­men­tals must ab­so­lutely change.” Cald­well out­lined a plan he said could add up to 800 af­ford­able units in each of the next four years.

The mayor also em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of fin­ish­ing all 20 miles of the city’s rail line to Ala Moana Cen­ter, adding that he is “deeply trou­bled” by the es­ca­lat­ing costs. The rail cost has bal­looned from $5.26 bil­lion in 2014 to nearly $10 bil­lion now. Cald­well has been lob­by­ing the state Leg­is­la­ture to ex­tend Oahu’s gen­eral ex­cise tax sur­charge to pay for the cash-strapped tran­sit sys­tem.

“This is a big game changer, rail and af­ford­able hous­ing,” said Cald­well, who is be­gin­ning the first year of his se­cond term after win­ning re-elec­tion in Novem­ber. “Com­bin­ing trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture with hous­ing in­fra­struc­ture … cre­ates the strong­est and long­est-last­ing foun­da­tion for our econ­omy and for our chil­dren.” Cald­well’s “in­clu­sion­ary hous­ing” strat­egy pro­poses re­quir­ing de­vel­op­ers build­ing near rail sta­tions to re­serve 15 per­cent of rental units for those earn­ing up to 80 per­cent of the area me­dian in­come, or AMI, and mar­ket 20 per­cent of the for­sale units to cus­tomers who earn up to 120 per­cent of AMI.

Cur­rent guide­lines re­quire that at least 30 per­cent of new hous­ing units be of­fered to those earn­ing up to 140 per­cent of AMI, which is $140,730 for a fam­ily of four, amount­ing to home prices of $833,000. Crit­ics have con­tended that the thresh­old is too high for most fam­i­lies.

The way to ad­dress Oahu’s home­less cri­sis is to pro­vide more af­ford­able hous­ing units, Cald­well said. Ac­cord­ing to last year’s point-in-time-count, there were 4,940 home­less peo­ple on Oahu, a slight in­crease from the 2015 to­tal of 4,903.

For projects not near rail

sta­tions, Cald­well’s pro­posal calls for 5 per­cent of rental units to be re­served for those earn­ing up to 80 per­cent of AMI and 10 per­cent of for-sale units to those with in­comes at up to

120 per­cent of AMI.

The pro­posed reg­u­la­tions would ap­ply to de­vel­op­ers seek­ing build­ing per­mits or land-use ap­provals for 10 or more hous­ing units. Cald­well also pro­posed that the units should re­main af­ford­able for at least 30 years in­stead of the 10 years cur­rently re­quired. The plan also of­fers an in-lieu fee op­tion of $45 per square foot paid to the city for de­vel­op­ers who choose not to build af­ford­able units. To en­cour­age more af­ford­able con­struc­tion, de­vel­op­ers would be of­fered in­cen­tives, in­clud­ing waivers from pay­ing sewer hookup, build­ing per­mit and plan re­view fees, he said. De­vel­op­ers would also not need to pay prop­erty taxes as long as the units stay af­ford­able. Ad­di­tion­ally, the city would cre­ate a rental hous­ing fi­nanc­ing pro­gram with more than $100 mil­lion an­nu­ally in pri­vate ac­tiv­ity bonds for de­vel­op­ers to bor­row funds at lower in­ter­est rates.

His ad­min­is­tra­tion has also iden­ti­fied sev­eral city­owned parcels that can be leased at nom­i­nal fees to de­vel­op­ers to build af­ford­able units, he said.

He said he ex­pects to in­tro­duce bills on the plan to the City Coun­cil next month. Coun­cil Chair­man Ron Menor de­scribed Cald­well’s pro­posal as “a sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward” but said the Coun­cil might con­sider more ag­gres­sive poli­cies, such as in­creas­ing the num­ber of re­quired af­ford­able rental and for-sale units. Menor also ex­pressed con­cern with the in-lieu fee op­tion, point­ing out that hous­ing ad­vo­cates have ques­tioned whether the fee is suf­fi­cient to ad­dress af­ford­able hous­ing needs. “The Coun­cil has rec­og­nized that there is no sin­gle panacea to ad­dress­ing this is­sue. An ef­fec­tive ac­tion plan to de­velop more af­ford­able hous­ing needs to in­clude a mul­ti­fac­eted and mul­ti­pronged ap­proach,” Menor said. “The Coun­cil will also take these pro­pos­als to pub­lic hear­ing and let the com­mu­nity have a chance to pro­vide their in­put.”

Cald­well also asked the state, de­vel­op­ers, non­prof­its and oth­ers to help build more af­ford­able units. Gov. David Ige said after Cald­well’s speech that the state has com­mit­ted to build 10,000 af­ford­able units by 2020.

“We are def­i­nitely com­mit­ted to pro­duc­tion (of af­ford­able units),” Ige said. “It (city’s ef­forts) cer­tainly sounds sim­i­lar to what we want to do.”

Dur­ing his 25-minute speech, Cald­well also touted sev­eral city ini­tia­tives that have im­proved Oahu’s roads, sew­ers and parks. Sev­eral bus routes that ser­vice res­i­dents across Oahu have been added in ar­eas in­clud­ing the North Shore, Cen­tral Oahu and Kapolei, he said.

City crews have so far repaved about 1,300 lane miles across Oahu un­der his ad­min­is­tra­tion and will pave an­other 200 by the end of this sum­mer, he said. As part of the E Paka Kakou ini­tia­tive, which was un­veiled dur­ing Cald­well’s 2015 ad­dress, 121 play courts and 44 com­fort sta­tions have been im­proved, and 46 play­grounds have been built or re­stored.


Mayor Kirk Cald­well de­liv­ered his fifth State of the City ad­dress from Honolulu Hale on Thurs­day,


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