Almost 12,000 affordable homes in Hawaii could be lost over next 20 years, study says

Hawaii is at risk of losing nearly 12, 000 affordable homes over the next two decades, according to a study commissioned by a nonprofit promoting action to prevent such loss.

AARP Hawai ‘i commissioned the study from Washington, D.C.-based Smart Growth America, and is scheduled to brief two legislative committees today on results.


“We want to start the discussion about planning now to develop strategies to encourage owners to keep affordable housing affordable or find alternative ways to keep the residents housed, ” Keali ‘i Lopez, AARP Hawai ‘i state director, said Monday in a statement.

The study accounts for rental and owner-occupied housing with affordability requirements expiring between 2023 and 2065.

Such housing, including many units reserved for seniors, typically was developed using local and /or federal government subsidies that came with affordability requirements often running for several decades. When affordability terms expire, such housing can be at risk of being converted to market-priced housing.

“One of the findings that stood out to us is that we know, years in advance, when and which projects may lose affordability, and so we shouldn’t be surprised when it happens and tenants in affordable rental projects need to find new places to live, ” Lopez said.

According to the report, Hawaii had 14, 747 subsidized units with ongoing affordability terms before the Aug. 8 Lahaina wildfire, and nearly 80 % of those, or 11, 624 units, have terms expiring by 2045. Some of this inventory was destroyed by the fire.

A lot of the affordability term expirations are concentrated over just a few years from 2041 to 2045 affecting 5, 423 units. Another 6, 201 units have expiration terms through 2040, including 1, 056 units through 2025. There are also 3, 293 units with expiration terms from 2046 to 2065.

In some past cases of privately owned low-income rental housing projects in Hawaii, developers have acquired new government financing to extend affordability terms under acquisition and renovation deals. Sometimes, though, affordable housing is lost.

One past example that unsettled state leaders was Kukui Gardens, which long had been one of Honolulu’s largest privately owned affordable rental housing communities.

The 857-unit project was built in 1970 near the edge of Chinatown by local developer Clarence T.C. Ching under a charitable trust using federal Department of Housing and Urban Development financing that required rents remain affordable to low-and moderate-income tenants for 40 years.

In 2006 a nonprofit affiliated with Ching, who died in 1985, announced plans to sell the project, and inked a $131 million sale agreement in 2007 with a developer that planned to replace Kukui Gardens with 3, 700 new homes, retail space, offices and a hotel.

The impending loss triggered opposition to the sale from Kukui Gardens tenants and community leaders, and the state threatened to acquire the property through condemnation.

Under a brokered alternative, about half the property with 389 apartments was sold to the state and a nonprofit developer that has maintained affordability for those units, while the balance of the property was converted to market-rate housing now known as Waena Apartments. However, another part of the envisioned plan to add 400 new affordable units on the preserved portion of Kukui Gardens failed.

Looking ahead, affordable housing projects with affordability terms expiring through 2030 include 208 units at Hale Mohalu in Pearl City, 200 units at Hale Makana o Waiale in Wailuku and 176 units at Kulana Hale in Makiki.

Michael Rodriguez, director of housing research at Smart Growth America, said in a statement that the forthcoming potential loss of affordable homes in Hawaii is partly due to a wave of building from the 1960s to the 1980s.

“Funding for affordable housing ebbs and flows depending on political tides and the construction economy, and the affordable housing timeline reflects that, ” he said. “The housing boom in the’60s through’80s resulted in more affordable housing during that time. The housing market hasn’t had a similar period since then.”

There have been efforts in recent years to boost affordable housing development, including legislative appropriations of $300 million in 2022 and $200 million in 2018 to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., a state agency, to help developers finance such projects.

Still, a chronic short supply of affordable housing remains in Hawaii, where the cost of housing is one of the highest in the nation.

Other findings from the analysis showed that the 14, 747 subsidized affordable homes in Hawaii represent 2.6 % of the state’s total housing stock, which is about 557, 000 homes, and that a little less than half of all the subsidized homes is owned by local government agencies or nonprofits.

Lopez said in her statement that government, nonprofits and some private owners of affordable rental projects are committed to keeping their units affordable and will extend affordability after requirements expire but that funding is necessary to cover maintenance and repairs of these properties.

“Tax credits and state and federal affordable housing funds can and are used to extend affordability of projects that need renovation, ” she said. “Further discussion and planning may help us find the right balance of using funds to build new affordable housing and maintain the housing that we have.”

Today’s briefing on the report is scheduled for 1 p.m. for the House Committee on Housing and the Senate Committee on Housing in Room 225 at the state Capitol and will be shown online by videoconference.

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