How affordable should city's apartments be?

Honolulu Star-Advertiser (HI), 2014-07-13

July 13 -- Honolulu leaders have wrestled over what role city government should play in managing Oahu's affordable housing since the city shuttered its Department of Housing and Community Development in the wake of a corruption scandal in 1998.

The 12 city-owned subsidized rental projects had operated at a loss for so long that officials decided to sell the buildings, but they have not yet been able to close a deal with a buyer. Three of the largest complexes are in Chinatown , and the latest proposal to set the policies governing the sale has included an effort to change the mix of tenants there.

Here are the proposals now under consideration by the Honolulu City Council :

--Bill 6 would allow the city administration to issue a request for proposals to purchase a long-term lease for nine of the properties.

--Resolution 14-121, Council Draft 1, introduced by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga , would fill vacancies in the three Chinatown towers with renters earning at least 80 percent of the annual median income (AMI). Currently, administration officials said, 68 percent of the units are rented to tenants earning 60 percent AMI or less.

--Resolution 14-121, Floor Draft 1, was introduced by Councilman Ron Menor , as a compromise. It would reserve 40 percent of the units for the 60 percenters.

Menor maintained that his draft "achieves a reasonable mix of housing," but on Wednesday two key members of the Council -- Chairman Ernie Martin and Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi , who chairs the Budget Committee -- said the Council should rethink the entire sale.

Pamela Witty-Oakland , director of the city Department of Community Services , has been at the helm of the sale negotiations. She said the administration is discussing the Martin idea but in general favors proposals that keep the mix of renters where it is, to avoid adding to the homeless population.

"We recognize that the 60 percent AMI is the group that needs housing the most," she said. "That's a working family. They're vulnerable to being displaced."


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