An Ambitious Affordable Housing Plan for Maui County
A new initiative has the potential to shift the paradigm for residents needing affordable housing in Maui County.
The Maui County Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan was presented to the Maui County Council on July 19 by local nonprofit, Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA). The plan identifies specific projects and outlines strategies to enable the development of 5,000 new affordable homes across the county within the next five years.
“The council wanted a plan that would get us 5,000 units in five years,” said HCA Executive Director Jeff Gilbreath. “We recognized it was really ambitious, but this is the community’s best foot forward. It’s going to take significant changes and everybody working together. The trick is that this is going to cost them [the county] about $1.2 billion.”
HCA Maui Program Manager Rhonda Alexander-Monkres believes the current council has an appetite to go big and get this done for the community. “The key will be weathering leadership transitions – how will the importance of the plan be sustained over time?”
Adds Gilbreath, “We are talking about creating community oversight and advisory groups so there can be continuity through the process, as well as an affordable housing coordinator who would be responsible for getting this finished in partnership with community development nonprofits and across county agencies.”
HCA was contracted by the county in late 2020 to assess the availability of government and private lands for the development of affordable housing. This, in response to an extreme shortage of affordable homes and rentals in the county.
“In the last five years, there were 2,853 homes approved in Maui County,” noted Alexander-Monkres. “And of all the homes approved, only 44% (1,265) were considered ‘affordable.’”
The plan was developed through an eight-month interactive community outreach program. Ideas and input were gathered from a broad spectrum of participants, from aspiring renters and homeowners to developers and financial institutions, as well as various cultural and environmentally focused community groups with expertise or interest in housing.
Led by Gilbreath and HCA co-founder and long-time housing advocate Blossom Feiteira, the team was comprised of 19 planners with expertise in engineering, architecture, data and policy analysis, law and community development.
The team identified promising and proven affordable housing strategies in other high-cost communities on the continent, along with the capacity of the county, community and development partners to implement the plan. The plan also addresses the need to invest in infrastructure – a key obstacle to affordable housing development in Maui County.
In addition to the goal of building 5,000 affordable units in record time, the plan also calls for the county to provide adequate funding to the Affordable Housing Fund to help finance development, require market-rate developers to dedicate 20% of their land to affordable housing, utilize county-owned land for affordable housing, and streamline the development process.
It also calls out the need to use initial pilot projects to identify and address gaps in the proposed affordable housing system and to fund supportive housing that addresses the needs of extremely low-income residents with priority going to kūpuna, houseless families, and persons with disabilities.
Thirty-six priority projects across the county were identified, and are located in east, central, south and west Maui, plus Pāʻia and Haʻikū, as well as on Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi.
But building affordable homes is only part of the equation – the other part is getting people into the homes. “HCA is here to help empower residents to get home purchase ready,” said Alexander-Monkres. “The programs and services we provide are proven successful. We want to continue to figure out ways to help people afford to live here.”
Outsiders dabbling in Hawaiʻi’s real estate market are part of the reason housing prices are so high and inventory is so low. To ensure that the planned affordable homes go to qualifying kamaʻāina, HCA is proposing a “qualified resident definition” that would, for example, require homebuyers to live and work in Maui County 75% of the time and have resided in the county for a minimum of two years.
Said Gilbreath, “Eight of the 10 high-cost communities that we researched on the continent have a local residency preference, so this is not something out of the norm. The fact that we don’t already have something like this is kind of shocking. I believe the council wants to see a pretty aggressive residency qualification.”
There is no doubt that a new system for developing affordable housing is sorely needed, not just on Maui, but across the pae ‘āina. For too long, the system has failed our communities. If adopted and implemented, the plan that HCA has developed for Maui County could change all that and serve as a model for affordable housing initiatives in other counties.
“This is more than just a roadmap to get to 5,000 homes,” said Gilbreath. “It really puts forward the notion that housing is a human right. For far too long, government has not invested public dollars into our greatest assets – our local communities and our local families.
“We’re in this situation as a result of 40 years of housing policy, primarily handed down by the federal government, that operates on the premise that housing subsidies and support are a ʻgiveaway’ to folks who are undeserving, rather than it being an investment – and the right investment. That has been the dominant narrative.
“But the dominant narrative has kept us in this crisis for far too long. So we’re basically flipping that on its head and challenging it to say, ‘No. Communities matter. Local people matter. Families are connected. This is not a giveaway. In Hawaiʻi, housing is a human right.’”
To review the plan go to: www.MauiHousingPlan.org