City lawmakers unanimously approved a $2.9 billion operating budget and a $1.4 billion capital budget on Wednesday that officials hope will increase affordable housing, promote stream cleaning, support economic diversification and improve island infrastructure, among other priorities.

“Our budget isn’t just numbers on paper,” Council Chair Tommy Waters said in a statement.

“It captures our community priorities and shows a pathway out of the pandemic, moving us towards a stronger and more sustainable economy.”

Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters during city council meeting held at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters said the budget illustrates the city’s priorities. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The budgets take effect on July 1.

In a statement, Mayor Rick Blangiardi thanked council members for “the vote of confidence in our team during these extremely difficult fiscal times.”

“Five months to the day after taking office we are extremely pleased and excited our first budget was unanimously approved and we are committed to making sure every dollar will be spent responsibly and efficiently on the challenges of building affordable housing, homelessness, infrastructure, public safety, and modernizing our city services,” he said.

The operating budget is $39.8 million less than last year’s budget, not counting federal aid money. The capital budget is slightly higher than last year.

Council members made several adjustments to the budget proposal introduced by Blangiardi in March.

The council said it restored $100 million in capital funds for affordable housing development that had been on the chopping block. Homelessness is expected to increase with the expiration of the governor’s eviction moratorium this month, the Council said in a press release.

The council also replaced $2.6 million that the Blangiardi administration had intended to cut from homeless services.

The approved budget also includes:

  • $170 million for affordable housing
  • $5 million in agriculture grants for local farmers
  • $22.6 million in additional homeless services
  • $1.15 million for stream cleaning, staff and equipment
  • $500,000 for a mobile crisis unit to assist first responders in non-criminal homelessness/mental health cases
  • $300,000 for software to upgrade the building permitting system
  • $20,000 in equipment for remote meeting options for Neighborhood Board meetings
  • $250,000 to improve energy efficiency at city waste facilities

“This budget helps address key community priorities and cost of living concerns,” Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina said in a statement.

“We need increased affordable housing, economic diversification, and food security for our families and our kupuna − and to do that we need to build more affordable housing units and support our local farmers and food production.”

Mayor RIck Blangiardi gestures during press conference announcing repairs of roads in Kakaako.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi introduced his budget proposal in March. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Approximately $28 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, funds were inserted into the budget, and $38 million in Department of Transportation Services funds, initially allocated to pay for interim operation of the rail, was dedicated to other uses, the council said.

The operating budget includes over $8.7 million for 55 community-based nonprofits for projects that benefit seniors, children, homeless and mental health services, the environment, culture and the arts and other public services, the council said.

The organizations applied through a competitive process, and a volunteer commission recommended the winners.

The council worked with the Blangiardi administration to support shared goals. That includes funding to reform and modernize the Department of Planning and Permitting and adding a unit to the Office of Economic Revitalization that will be tasked with seeking federal grants.

The latter effort will cost less than $500,000, the council said, but it is expected to bring in tens of millions in funding to support projects that help Oahu recover from the economic and social impacts of the pandemic.

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