Credit for affordable housing sparks political clash
This year’s gubernatorial race heats up as the perennial problems of Hawaii’s high cost of living and homelessness become major campaign issues.
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Gov. David Ige and state lawmakers have touted a record $200 million they appropriated this year for financing the construction of affordable rental housing as among this year’s top legislative achievements.
But the funding infusion — which was notably
made during an election year — has become a political football as this year’s
gubernatorial race heats up and the perennial problems of Hawaii’s high cost of living and homelessness become major campaign issues.
Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, who is seeking to beat Ige in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary, has accused the governor of taking undue credit for the
$200 million in funding, saying that it’s the Legislature that should be applauded.
Meanwhile, the bill’s namesake, longtime housing advocate and former state Sen. Bob Nakata, says that it is actually Hanabusa who deserves credit for securing the money even though she was serving nearly 5,000 miles away in Washington, D.C., when the Legislature passed the funding measure. Nakata is supporting Hanabusa in the governor’s race.
As Nakata tells it, he wasn’t getting any traction with House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke in his efforts to boost funding for the state’s Rental Housing Revolving Fund, so he called on his longtime friend and former colleague Hanabusa to enlist Luke’s support.
“Sylvia, with Colleen’s urging, took it seriously,” said Nakata. Luke says that’s true.
Nakata says it’s an example of how Hanabusa could be more effective as governor since she has the support of the leaders in the Legislature.
Nakata says it took a long time for the governor to decide whether to sign the bill. “Does he sign the bill when Hanabusa and the legislative leadership are likely to get the credit?” he said.
But Ige says that’s not true. “I didn’t hesitate in signing that bill,” he told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. “Everything that was included in the bill was consistent with the legislation that we submitted. … You know, I’m not a Johnny-come-lately to housing. I’ve been working on housing for four years.”
While this year’s $200 million appropriation — a figure that came out of the Legislature — was a big jump from the $50 million Ige had requested and set a record for the Rental Housing Revolving Fund, Ige has pushed for significant increases in funding for the program since he took office. The fund, created in 1993, provides gap financing for affordable rental housing projects.
In 2015 Ige asked the Legislature for $100 million for the fund, but the Legislature only gave him $40 million. In 2016 he asked for $75 million, and the Legislature approved $36.6 million. In 2017 Ige requested $50 million, and he got $25 million.
Ige said the push to boost funding for the Rental Housing Revolving Fund came out of a housing task force he convened shortly after becoming governor that includes nonprofit and for-profit developers and advocates, including Nakata. Ige said that it was clear that state subsidies were fundamentally important to creating affordable rentals.
While Ige didn’t get as much funding as he wanted in previous years, he has still secured record amounts for the fund since taking office. During his first three years in office — before this year’s $200 million appropriation — he secured nearly as much funding for the program as had been allocated during its two-decade history, according to a Star-
Advertiser analysis of data provided by the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., which administers the fund.
The pace at which affordable-housing projects have been awarded funds from the Rental Housing Revolving Fund has also increased under Ige. Over the past 3-1/2 years, 21 projects were awarded funds, according to HHFDC data. This compares with 21
projects that were awarded during the seven years prior to Ige taking office.
Ige said his administration also changed the fund’s policies so that applications could be received year-round, making it easier for projects to move forward, and changed the program’s criteria so that more shovel-ready projects are prioritized.
As for this year’s $200 million appropriation, Ige said he’s never claimed that it was his doing alone. “I’ve shared credit with everyone involved,” said Ige. “As you know, everything that the Legislature passes is a product of everyone working together. In fact, Bob Nakata has been coming to most of the (task force) meetings for the past four years.”
Ige signed the bill, informally dubbed the “Bob
Nakata Act,” last month.
Developers in Ige’s task force were hesitant to wade into the political fracas over who should be getting credit for addressing
affordable-housing issues, but noted they had been working with both Ige and the Legislature to get
“The $200 million was a bold move and said, ‘Hey, we are all in,’” said Harry Saunders, president of Castle &Cooke Hawaii and a member of the governor’s task force. “This was a big one. It was an election year, so they all wanted to say, ‘Hey, I’ve got your money, I’ve fixed the affordable-housing problem because we got $200 million.’ God bless them, we got $200 million, so maybe we can get 2,000 units built.”