CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@ STARADVERTISER.COM
The 89-unit Kaiaulu o Kupuohi on Kupuohi Street in Lahaina opened late last year to offer affordable rentals. Now all that remains are three sections of the burned mid-rise.
A state agency is exploring ways to expedite replacement of Maui low-income rental housing to offset losses from the deadly Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire.
About 550 homes serving predominantly low-income households were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the fire, representing 16% of the estimated 3,500 homes lost or damaged in Lahaina, according to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.
The agency, which helps private developers produce low-income housing using state and federal financing, is considering several strategies to replenish inventory serving those who can least afford to live on Maui, where housing costs are among the highest in the state.
Dean Minakami, HHFDC’s interim executive director, told the agency’s board at a recent meeting that a few potential strategies he described as “low-hanging fruit” include dedicating a specific amount of financing to low-income projects on Maui and lending Maui County money to replace damaged infrastructure.
“These are things that are entirely within our control,” he said during the Sept. 14 meeting.
Minakami also said the agency is discussing how it might help developers accelerate several previously planned low-income housing projects on Maui, including two in Kihei, one in Kahului and one that was under construction in Lahaina but suffered only wind and smoke damage.
Other possible strategies being considered by HHFDC involve obtaining more federal financing for low-income housing development on Maui, which would require congressional approval.
Such approval is being sought via requests to Hawaii’s congressional delegation through Gov. Josh Green, according to Minakami, who said other states have been successful in obtaining such financing increases approved by Congress after losses from natural disasters.
“There is precedent for these actions,” he told the agency’s board.
All the strategies being considered by HHFDC aim to produce long-term affordable housing largely for low-income households, including seniors, that would replace what amounted to one out of six homes destroyed or damaged by the fire.
This inventory served tenants who in some cases earned no more than $24,330 a year for a single person or $34,740 for a family of four, which equates to 30% of the median annual income in Maui County. Monthly rent for some of these units could be less than $1,000 for a four-bedroom apartment and under $600 for a studio.
The 547 predominately low-income rentals affected were at 12 properties in Lahaina, according to HHFDC.
The largest property on the list was Front Street Apartments with 142 units. According to the agency, the private owner of the project on state land intends to rebuild pending an insurance claim.
The Hawaii Public Housing Authority had two properties affected by the fire: Piilani Homes with 42 units and David Malo Circle with 18 apartments.