APRIL 15, 2017

State Budget Decisions – Not an Easy Job – But Housing Needs to Continue as a Priority

by Catherine GRAHAM and Rev. Bob NAKATA

Co-chairs, Housing Now Coalition

Affordable housing advocates have a bold vision of Honolulu in 10 or 20 years: we see the Rail

Project completed and the housing developments along the rail line providing sufficient affordable rental housing for all who need it. Honolulu’s economic future is bright and homelessness is no longer a pressing issue as Housing First can easily find homes for those who need them due to the successful Transit Oriented Development (TOD). 

We know that many legislators share this vision, but what will it take for this vision to become a reality?

Perhaps most crucially, it will take a legislature that continues to appropriate sufficient funds for affordable housing developments through the Rental Housing Revolving Fund (RHRF).  Such funds are like a water pipe leading to a reservoir.  The larger the pipe and the more water flowing through it, the quicker the reservoir will fill up.  The more money that our legislature allocates to the RHRF on an annual basis, the quicker we can significantly increase our affordable housing inventory.

Housing advocates thank Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda and Finance Chair Sylvia Luke for supporting affordable housing with a $25million appropriation to the Rental Housing Revolving Fund, which, combined with dollars from the conveyance tax, will provide 650 affordable units.  However, we respectfully urge the legislature to consider increasing this amount as our community needs over 2000 affordable units each year to meet the legislative mandate of 22,500 units over the next 10 years. 

Developers of affordable units rely upon the RHRF for gap funding. The RHRF is by no means the only financing a developer applies for, but it is an essential piece of the financial pie if housing at 60 percent area medium income is to be built. That is housing for a family of four making about $60,000 a year.

Of the $151 million in the Rental Housing Revolving Fund currently, all but $3 million is spoken for because it has been awarded to projects that are being developed and built, but cannot be dispersed until the projects are complete.

Having a large balance in the RHRF at the Hawaii Housing and Finance Development Corporation (HHFDC) can appear to be money not at work.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Those dollars are at work for our community, enabling the affordable units we need.  very year this fund will need a large investment to finance affordable developments. 

However, our legislators know how many other state projects need funding and that other departments could provide more timely benefits to the community.  That is a dilemma.  No one disputes the difficulty the legislators have in deciding how to divide up the monies. 

The State mandated Special Action Team is working on identifying state and county owned parcels of land that can be utilized for affordable housing development.  They are strategizing on ways to streamline the permitting and planning process.  They are encouraging more creative affordable rental development.  All they need now is adequate funding.

But it has taken decades of inaction to arrive at our dearth of housing.  It may take decades  of courageous action to solve the problem.

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