House and Senate leaders agreed Tuesday to pump $200 million into the rental housing trust fund, more than doubling its current budget to build more units in the country’s most expensive state to live.

Lawmakers said the cash infusion, coupled with more than $300 million in additional housing-related funding increases and tax exemptions, should result in 25,000 new affordable rental housing units by 2030.

The amended measure will go to the full House and Senate for a final vote in the coming days before heading to Gov. David Ige’s office for approval.

Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said the agreement marks a “huge accomplishment” for the Legislature in an area that was identified as a top priority this session, which wraps up May 3.

Sen Donovan Delacruz acknowledges Rev Bob Nakata calling the new over $500 million housing bill the ‘Bob Nakata Bill’ and he can retire now.
Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz acknowledges The Rev. Bob Nakata on Tuesday, calling the new housing measure the “Bob Nakata Bill” for his tireless advocacy. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Sen. Will Espero, who chairs the Senate Housing Committee, said before the committee vote that the Legislature needed to do something “big, bold and audacious” this year and this was the measure.

“Hopefully within 10 years we will have resolved the problem of homelessness and lack of affordable housing,” Espero said.

The Rev. Bob Nakata, a former state senator who has spent decades advocating that the Legislature do more for affordable housing, said he was not optimistic that the problem is solved but believes this lays the necessary groundwork.

He praised lawmakers for their work and even the media for keeping it “in the forefront.”

“It’s not an easy thing to get this many people together on something this large,” Nakata said.

In a press conference after the conference committee meeting, lawmakers also recognized Hawaii Construction Alliance Director Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and local real estate developer Dick Gushman for their help in coming up with a solution to the state’s housing crisis.

Rep Sylvia Luke during $500 million affordable housing bill press conference.
Rep. Sylvia Luke speaks during a press conference announcing a bill providing more than $500 million for affordable housing as, from left, Rep. Tom Brower, Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz and the Rev. Bob Nakata listen. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

In addition to adding $200 million to the state rental housing trust fund, which had a balance of $156 million, the bill will also increase the funds available for the general excise tax exemption for affordable housing construction costs to $30 million from $7 million and extend the date for such projects to take advantage of it to 2030.

The bill also adds $10 million to the dwelling unit revolving fund, which is at $90 million now, and appropriates $50,000 for a housing access and needs study — something Rep. Nadine Nakamura advocated.

Another key change is expanding the type of affordable housing that qualifies. Instead of limiting it to being for families earning 80 percent of area median income or below, the tax credit would go toward housing for up to 140 percent area median income.

The total value of this expanded general excise tax exemption amounts to $360 million over 12 years, according to a House news release.

The rental housing trust fund money would be for roughly 1,600 rental units at 80 percent area of median income or lower.

The new federal guidelines, published Monday, show the area median income for a family of four in Honolulu is $116,600. For a single person, the new guidelines say a salary of $65,350 or less in Honolulu is now low-income.

Correction: An earlier version of this report mistakenly said the area media income for a family of four is $93,000.

That means a single person at 140 percent area median income could earn up to $114,360 and qualify for affordable housing and a family of four could earn up to $163,280.

Join the conversation in-person at Civil Beat’s upcoming Civil Cafe event, “Legislative Wrap-up 2018,” on Wednesday, May 2, at noon at the Capitol. Go to our RSVP page to register and get more information. 

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