Leaders in the Legislature ensured a key component of their joint legislative package stayed intact Friday when a panel of senators removed amendments to an omnibus housing bill.

Provisions found in Senate Bill 3104 at the start of session last month were largely restored Friday by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, a key player in the rare coalition between the House, Senate and Gov. David Ige that formed at the start of the session.

The committee also plugged in suggestions from state departments that would help them facilitate the housing program.

The bill still budgets $200 million to develop affordable housing units on lands near the University of Hawaii West Oahu and fast-tracks affordable housing developments past certain state processes.

Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and Co Chair Gil Keith Agaran during hearing on funding emergency appropriations in response to future COVID-19 Coronavirus health concerns.
The Ways and Means Committee changed SB 3104 back to its original version. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

SB 3104 was amended Feb. 11 by the Senate Housing Committee, chaired by Sen. Stanley Chang. The committee lowered the requirement for affordable houses from 140% of area median income to 80%.

A family of four making 140% of AMI could afford a home that costs $867,900. Chang believed that threshold was far too high for folks to afford in Hawaii.

His committee made other changes too, like having the new developments turned over to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands once leases were up.

But Dela Cruz’s committee removed those changes, replacing them with language previously in the bill with several clarifying amendments from various state departments.

During a hearing Friday, Dela Cruz said the changes were made with Chang’s approval.

Under the new amendments, the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation will decide the criterion, and presumably the AMI threshold, for how affordable housing projects would be developed under SB 3104.

HHFDC would essentially follow the same guidelines for affordable housing projects it uses now.

Of the 11 senators on the Ways and Means Committee present Friday, nine voted “yes.” Sens. Kai Kahele and Kurt Fevella voted with “reservations.”

Kahele chaired the joint committee with Chang that first made changes to SB 3104.

Those changes were the first signs of any open dissent to the package of bills put together by lawmakers and the business community.

SB 3104, along with three other bills to expand access to early learning, better manage public school facilities and raise the minimum wage are all expected to face floor votes by the House and Senate next week.

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