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Mayor pitches new strategy on affordable housing units

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Caldwell advocates for a change in the calculation of who could buy the homes

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is proposing what he calls a “game-changing” shift in the way city officials determine how many and what type of affordable housing units developers and landowners must provide.

The goal is to meet the island’s affordable housing crunch by infusing the market with as many as 4,000 affordable units in the next five years, the mayor said.

In essence, developers and property owners will be allowed to provide fewer affordable units, but to price them lower and keep them at affordable rates longer than they currently do.

“It’s going to be highly controversial because the requirements we’re going to place on the development community are requirements they’re not going to be happy with,” Caldwell told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser Wednesday.

Under current city land use policies, developers typically are required to make 30 percent of their units affordable for a minimum of 10 years, and to make them available to those making up to 140 percent of Oahu’s median income, Caldwell and other city officials said.

The new policy, if approved by the City Council, would lower the definition of what’s affordable to 120 percent of median. If providing affordable units for sale, developers would then still need to set aside 30 percent of units affordable, but would have to keep them that way for a minimum of 60 years.

A new wrinkle would provide incentives for homebuilders to provide rentals by allowing them to set aside only 15 percent to 20 percent of units available for affordable units, provided they agree to make then rental units and designated for those making up to only 80 percent of median, and for a minimum of 60 years.

Caldwell said he and others are frustrated by the current policy that allows developers to designate units for those making up to 140 percent of median as affordable. Those most in need of units make 80 percent of median or less, which are those families who make about $74,000 for a family of four.

“The way we’ve gone about addressing affordable housing in this state, I believe since statehood probably, has not worked,” Caldwell said.

Another key change in policy is to have landowners and developers to commit to the affordable housing requirement at the time they seek building permits, administratively from the Department of Planning and Permitting, for 10 or more new housing units. Currently, affordable housing requirements are enacted at the time of rezoning before the City Council.

Administration officials said they are unclear on whether the new formula would apply to the 3,500-unit Koa Ridge project, which the Council gave rezoning to last year, or the 11,750-home Ho‘opili project in West Oahu, which recently submitted a rezoning application and has yet to go the Council for approval.

Details of the plan are expected to be discussed Friday at a special meeting of the Council Zoning and Planning Committee.

Other parts of Caldwell’s affordable package include a plan to ease up “ohana” dwelling units, also known as accessory dwelling units, by allowing the Department of Planning and Permitting to approve second dwelling units on single-family lots even when the intention is to not have them occupied by someone related by blood, marriage or adoption to those living in the principal dwelling.

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