Two weeks after Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle took office, he appears to be sticking to his guns as a fiscal conservative on at least one matter.
The mayor has come out against a ballot amendment that would create an office of housing, saying that the new bureaucracy would unnecessarily strain the city budget.
The last of six possible charter amendments to go before voters on Nov. 2, the measure was suggested to help address homelessness and other affordable housing issues. The new office would be a centralized agency, ensuring state and federal governments, private industry, non-profits and community organizations work effectively and productively together.
“Because Honolulu’s housing crises needs immediate attention, the council believes that it would be beneficial to establish a housing office directly under the mayor,” says Resolution 10-38, which was drafted by the Honolulu City Council in support of the amendment.
The only problem is that the mayor doesn’t want that responsibility.
“The mayor’s position is ‘No’ and here’s why,” said Jim Fulton, Carlisle’s executive assistant. “The city department of community services already handles housing issues. Creating another office would be a costly restructure for the city and would subject the issue of housing to the changing tides of politics.”
The council resolution behind the charter amendment enables the mayor to appoint an executive with a minimum of three years experience managing housing programs, projects or advocacy on behalf of special needs populations. The mayor would also have the authority to rescind the appointment.
Fulton said the mayor is open to the possibility of appointing someone to work directly with his administration and the Hawaii Office of Community Services, but the creation of a new housing office would strain a city budget that has little room for additions.
Not everyone agrees. City Council Chair Todd Apo says the finances for such an office don’t amount to what most people in government would consider excessive.
“I’m guessing here but I think that fully-loaded, it’s $150,000 for salaries, overhead and all those types of costs,” Apo said.
Apo told Civil Beat that an Office of Housing would essentially comprise two individuals with broad authority who work in conjunction with the state Office of Community Services.
“We are not looking to expand government,” he said.
According to the Office of Community Services website, it “assists Hawaii’s low-income, immigrant and refugee populations to overcome and eliminate workforce barriers to economic self-sufficiency via an array of community-based programs and services. OCS primarily contracts and administers program services on behalf of the State and Federal governments.”
The office receives its funding through competitive grants at the state and federal level. Apo says that having a localized agency will help create more opportunities for affordable housing in Honolulu.
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