Gov. Ige makes push for affordable housing in State of the State address

Photo courtesy Office of the Governor

In his second State of the State address, Gov. David Ige made a big push for affordable housing units, a key to address the ongoing concern about homelessness.

The governor said that “it is estimated that 66,000 housing units are needed in the coming years. The state alone cannot fill the gap, but the state wants to do its part.”

That’s what minority leader Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang wanted to hear.

“I think that’s the biggest thing that touches on everything else, right? It’s hard for us to have jobs, hard to find people to work those jobs that can live here, afford to live here. It affects homelessness,” Fukumoto Chang said.

It all boils down to money. The state is expanding partnerships with the private sector to build more affordable homes and rentals across Hawaii. “We are seeking $75 million for the Rental Housing Revolving Fund to make more money available for low-income rentals.”

Gov. Ige said the biggest roadblock to home development is the lack of an adequate infrastructure, so the state is asking the legislature for a $25 million increase for Fiscal Year 2017 to fund projects such as roads and water systems.

Concerning homelessness, “we cannot force people into shelters, but we can do our best to help those families,” he said. “That’s why we increased funding for the Housing First effort and organized a landlord summit to encourage acceptance of more low-income and homeless tenants from building owners.”

The governor said an additional $8.3 million has been included in his budget to address homelessness.

The state is in the final stages of renovating a 5,000-square-foot maintenance facility in Kakaako that will be a family assessment center to connect families to longer term housing. The facility will house up to 240 people a year.

The budget also includes plans to expand the Housing First Program on the neighbor islands and establish a new rapid re-housing program throughout the state.

The governor said the state will be investing $5 million immediately to jump start a new public-private partnership with Aloha United Way to help with rapid re-housing, homeless prevention services, establish a statewide referral system and develop long-term homeless strategies to address the needs of the most vulnerable.

“This initiative is expected to provide immediate relief to an estimated 1,300 households,” he said.

The state’s public housing facilities are also in need of renovation, as public-private partnerships to allow mixed-use/mixed-income tenants have begun with the North School Street redevelopment project, with Kuhio Park Terrace and Mayor Wright Homes following suit.

Senate president Ron Kouchi said, “The governor did a great job laying out what he wanted to do, certainly presented some specific dollars numbers. Now, we need to see if it works within the financial plan that we all need to come to an agreement on.”

**Click here to read the entire State of the State address.**

Other highlights of Governor Ige’s State of the State address involved:

A commitment to the Thirty Meter Telescope project

“When I visited Mauna Kea last April, I felt deeply that something was not right.,” the governor said. “Even though I personally believe that the telescope needs to be built, it was also clear to me that many things have gone very wrong along the way. As a result, I have taken the time to listen to a lot of people — listening to their hopes as well as their concerns.

“In its recent ruling, the Supreme Court did not say ‘don’t do this project.’ What it did say was that the state didn’t do the right things in the approval process. It told us we needed to do a better job of listening to people and giving them a real opportunity to be heard.”

Gov. Ige went on to say “it’s so unfortunate that our past and our future have been pitted against each other on the slopes of Mauna Kea. As Governor, I am committed to realigning our values and our actions. They are what define us as a community and allow us to move forward – proud of our past and facing our future with strength and confidence.

“I am committed to pursuing this project and I hope its sponsors will stay with us.  And this time, we will listen carefully to all, reflect seriously on what we have heard and, whatever we do in the end, we will do it the right way.”

Air conditioning for public school classrooms

With the Department of Education already launching an energy-efficiency program, it is the governor’s goal to cool 1,000 public school classrooms by the end of this year and thousands more each year through the end of 2018.

Gov. Ige said the state will use $100 million of Green Energy Market Securitization funds so that the DOE and its energy-efficiency partner, OpTerra, can quickly access affordable financing for a large portion of its cost to air condition classrooms.

House Speaker Joseph Souki calls it a “major proposal.”

“It’s an idea that should have been brought up long time ago. I give credit to the governor and his staff for coming up with the idea,” Souki said.

A renaissance for Kalihi, including the future of the Oahu Community Correctional Center

The governor said he intends to put together a group of community leaders who will convene a series of community meetings to find out what Kalihi residents want and what role the district will play in the future of Honolulu.

“The land at Dillingham and Puuhale could be used for affordable housing, open space for recreation, commercial development and the jobs that it would bring, education and many other possibilities,” Gov. Ige said, “and there are other state housing and mixed-use developments in various stages of planning and development in Kalihi.”

A bill will also be introduced this legislative session to tear down the Oahu Community Correctional Facility in Kalihi and build a new facility in Halawa due to the overcrowding and disrepair at the jail.

“Once the correctional facility has been moved, we can take advantage of the transit-oriented development opportunities created by the rail transit system,” the governor said.

Improvements to the Hawaii State Hospital

Gov. Ige said “mental health is the single-most pressing unmet health issue facing our state.”

Because of that, an investment of  $160.5 million will be made for a new forensic mental health facility on the hospital’s Kaneohe grounds, with $4.7 million budgeted in Fiscal Year 2017 to cover projected operating deficits at the State Hospital.

Creating an innovation economy

The governor said that with tourism at near capacity, “we simply must create an economic environment that enables Hawaii’s entrepreneurs to turn ideas into products and services so that we can compete in today’s global economy. And we know that deploying a strong broadband capacity is critical to that kind of environment.”

Gov. Ige proposes setting aside $30 million over the next six years from corporate tax revenues to support innovation enterprises.

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