A bill garnering support from advocates of both business interests and social services sets a state goal of developing at least 22,500 affordable rental housing units over the next decade.

The first of those units could be ready for occupancy in January.

Senate Bill 2561 was approved in conference committee Wednesday and now goes to the full House and Senate for votes.

In addition to the development goal, the bill would set up a temporary “action team” to facilitate it. How much funding that action team would receive will be determined in the coming days.

Senator Breene Harimoto speaks during hearing on Hawaiian homelands. 24 march 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
State Sen. Breene Harimoto is the lead conferee on many bills related to housing and homelessness this session. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Senate lead conferee Breene Harimoto and House lead conferee Mark Hashem agreed to add two more members to the action team, one representing nonprofit developers and the other for-profit developers, both with expertise in housing. That would give the team a total of eight members.

In the bill, legislators noted that 64,700 housing units are needed to meet projected long-term housing demands through 2025. It identified 22,247 rental units as needed to cover households of all income levels needing a place to live.

SB 2561 is supported by the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, which said that, with the median home price in the Islands now $730,000, “the repercussions are having a major impact on Honolulu’s economy. Without a solution to the state’s shortage of residences, the number will soon surpass a million dollars. Every uptick in prices has increasing economic impact.”

Betty Lou Larson of Catholic Charities Hawaii and Partners in Care called the legislation “an important bill to provide immediate action and a concentrated effort at the top levels of state government.”

Senate Ways and means staff before conference meeting. 19 april 2016
Senate Ways and Means staff were still working with House Finance Wednesday afternoon, holding up release of the state budget that affects many bills.. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The movement on SB 2561 came a day after leaders of the money committees agreed to give the Ige administration $12 million to support initiatives targeting homelessness.

House Finance and Senate Ways and Means are not expected to meet again on the state’s supplemental budget until Thursday. When that happens, the fate of many other bills — especially ones calling for appropriations — will be made more clear.

Thursday is the deadline for all bills without a fiscal element, while Friday is the deadline for all fiscal bills. The 2016 legislative session concludes May 5.

Waiting On Other Housing Measures

Five other housing measures before Harimoto and Hashem were rolled over to Thursday, awaiting approval from the money committees.

Two of the measures would amend the operations of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority and the funding eligibility criteria of the Rental Housing Revolving Fund. They would require the housing authority to establish trust accounts to provide matching funds for tenants who rent dwelling units, and to specify tenancy termination requirements.

Another asks the Department of Human Services to set up a rapid re-housing assistance program to move homeless people into permanent housing “s quickly as possible and achieve stability in that housing. The bill also requires that the program be designed and operated so as to qualify for federal emergency shelter grants.

The remaining two bills would: base the amount of the state low-income housing tax credit on whether or not a building is financed by tax-exempt bonds, and increase funding for affordable rental housing development.

Hawaii's rental market is among the nation's most expensive and the gap between renters wages and their rent is the largest in the country.
Hawaii’s rental market is among the nation’s most expensive and the gap between renters’ wages and their rent is the largest in the country. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

One related measure yet to receive a conference committee hearing is House Bill 2166. It would expand the low-income-household renters’ income tax credit based on adjusted gross income and filing status.

One Wednesday, the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice was among those urging supporters of affordable housing to pressure House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke to hear the bill.

“So many low and moderate income families are struggling to make ends meet, and our state should not be making it harder by applying the highest tax rate on those who can afford it the least,” the center explained. “Our lowest income residents pay 13 percent of their income toward state taxes, while our wealthiest residents pay 8 percent. The Low-Income Household Renters Credit has not be adjusted for more than three decades of inflation.”

In other action in Harimoto’s and Hashem’s conference committee, House Bill 2305 and Senate Bill 2823 were passed.

The former calls for the creation of sub-accounts within the state’s dwelling-unit revolving fund to provide loans and grants to finance regional state infrastructure improvements in areas of planned growth.

The latter authorizes the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation board of directors to set the salary of the corporation’s executive director in an amount not to exceed the salary of the director of the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

The corporation falls under the department’s administrative purview.

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