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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Housing panel seeks to end homelessness

By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Making government land available for affordable housing, expediting the permit approval process and creating a public/private venture to finance expensive infrastructure projects were some of the ideas at a meeting of the state's Affordable Housing Task Force yesterday.

The meeting was conducted by the state Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawai'i.

The task force was created by Gov. Linda Lingle's administration to address what it calls Hawai'i's growing homeless population and lack of affordable housing. It includes private developers, financial institutions, state and county agencies and social service providers. Lingle's goal this year is to create a six-year action plan to end homelessness.

About 100 people attended the meeting, titled "Where will our workers live."

Laura E. Thielen, of Health Care for the Homeless, a non-profit service provider, said all of the state's affordable homes, rental units, public housing, emergency shelters and homeless transitional facilities are filled.

"It all comes down to: The government has really put so many barriers in front of (affordable housing) development," said Thielen. "This is the beginning of breaking that down."

According to a private consultant's report quoted yesterday by Lingle, the state is lacking 30,000 affordable homes, of which 17,000 would be rental units.

Developers of large residential projects said part of the reason for the shortage is that it takes seven to 10 years to get the necessary government approval.

Adding to the shortage is the high cost of infrastructure, they said, most of which used to be paid for by government.

Harry Saunders, president of developer Castle & Cooke, said developers, like any business, must make a profit but there are ways government can help bring down development costs.

"The state is looking at excess lands to contribute," Saunders said. "If the land can be kicked in, that's maybe half the cost. They are taking a look at tax credits and speeding up the (permit) process. That will help."

According to the state, the cost of an "affordable" home is between $219,000 and $269,000, based on the median family income, which is $65,700 a year in Honolulu.

The median price of a single-family home on O'ahu, based on July figures, is $480,000.

"These are people that are hard-working and not looking for handouts," Saunders said. "We just need more homes, home choices and options available."

Lingle closed the forum by saying she is optimistic about the task force's ability to deal with these issues.

Reach James Gonser at 535-2431 or jgonser@honoluluadvertiser.com.