Yesterday I did something unusual for me. I introduced a bill with an exemption from EA/EISs, and an exemption from the General Excise Tax.
Remember, I ran for office because I opposed the PLDC, which gave the state wholesale exemptions for any development from environmental and zoning laws. Fortunately, we were able to get the PLDC repealed, and have successfully stopped other bills trying to grant wholesale exemptions.
So why did I introduce SB 3050?
I’m proposing a narrowly-tailored approach, to encourage more mid-sized developers to build low-rise affordable housing along the Rail line; and to get more businesses willing to manage long-term affordable rental units.
We need more housing on Oahu that is truly affordable for our residents. If we build affordable housing along the Rail route, we have a better chance of:
- Protecting our agricultural lands from sprawling development.
- Reducing the transportation time and cost for residents by housing them in the city.
- Revitalizing our urban core and provide housing attractive – and affordable – for our young adults, so we stop losing so many to the mainland, and Kupuna who want to downsize, but currently can’t find an affordable place to do so.
- Supporting Rail ridership, so our residents aren’t stuck with horrific operational subsidy costs.
I recognize we can’t guarantee these outcomes. But if we don’t build affordable housing along the Rail, we can pretty much guarantee we’ll end up with the opposite outcomes.
So do we really need an EA/EIS and GET exemption to get there?
Well, I know a lot of people will be proposing and discussing wholesale exemptions this Session, claiming that’s what’s needed to get affordable housing built. I oppose that approach. But I’m not sure where the leadership in the Senate and House will land, given the popular demand for affordable housing.
Sometimes, if you want to be a part of the discussion and affect the outcome, you have to go on record with the alternative you would support. In my gut, I felt it was necessary at this time to put my position on the record in order to have more credibility in our internal discussions. So I sat down to outline something.
I’ll be the first to admit, this bill is not perfect. But it’s meant to show that we can, and actually must, tailor any exemptions to get the goal we desire and minimize unintended consequences.
I’m proposing that any EA/EIS exemptions should only apply to lands that are:
- Already in the State Urban District (State Land Use Commission has already identified them for Urban use);
- Already zoned by the City for residential uses (no parks or preservation lands);
- Are not in a Historic District (no Chinatown or other historic areas);
- Are located within half-mile of a fixed mass transit system (no neighbor island or area on Oahu outside of the Rail corridor);
5. The development is a Chapter 201H affordable housing project with a dedicated, enforceable property restriction where:
- Every single residential unit is for people at or below 100% of the median income; or
- Half the residential units are for people at or below 80% of the median income.
The GET exemption only applies to revenue from affordable rental units, with the same land requirements as above, only for the rents that are affordable for persons at or below the median income, and only for the term that they remain affordable.
So what developments would get the benefit of these EA/EIA exemptions?
Affordable housing built on State land around the Rail.
Affordable housing built on City land around the Rail.
Affordable housing built on private land using state or city funds or credits, like the Affordable Housing Revolving Trust Fund, that has to adopt written conditions that are approved and enforceable by the State HHFDC.
And that’s it.
Oahu has two developers who are willing to build truly affordable housing on state lands. I’m hoping if we can make the process simpler, and make the rent from affordable units more profitable by exempting them from General Excise Tax, then more local, smaller developers will step up to do infill development and manage affordable rental properties.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to rely on the Hong Kong style high rises for a token number of “affordable” units that are actually priced for the upper-income?
I’m open to discussion and other ideas to get truly affordable units in our urban core without unintended consequences. This is just an attempt to show that there are better alternatives to wholesale exemptions.
Read the bill, then let me know what you think.