Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Helping Honolulu understand its options for strengthening its inclusionary housing policy

by Robert Hickey, National Housing Conference

I recently had the opportunity to brief the Honolulu city council, the city’s planning staff and housing directors from across the state of Hawaii about national best practices in inclusionary housing as part of a whirlwind tour of Oahu. The trip was made possible by NHC member EAH Housing, and was a great opportunity to share what we’ve been learning of late.

With Honolulu’s housing costs soaring and a dozen new condominium projects in the pipeline, the city is considering separate proposals from Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Council Member Ron Menor to amend the city’s existing inclusionary policy to broaden its applicability, serve more lower-income households and lengthen the duration of affordability.

Testifying at a city council meeting
In my presentation (see slides here) I talked about how Honolulu’s peers are making similar moves. For example, as we learned from building a national database of policies and writing Achieving Lasting Affordability through Inclusionary Housing, more than 80 percent of inclusionary housing programs now require affordability terms of 30 years or more. Many localities are working within the confines of limited staffing to ensure ongoing affordability through a combination of strong legal mechanisms, carefully designed resale formulas, strategic monitoring and stewardship practices and third-party partnerships.

The visit gave me a chance to also talk about why inclusionary housing is becoming more popular, how the market has struggled to remedy lower-income housing needs by just building more housing and how Honolulu is the latest of several cities, including New York City, Chicago and Washington, DC, to look at how it can strengthen its policy now that the market has rebounded.

With Councilmember Ron Menor
Councilmembers were especially hungry for information about how their peers are faring, and how they’re responding to the legal, economic and administrative issues that arise. The second half of my hour-long briefing gave us a chance to discuss some of these issues in depth, such as how policies balance feasibility with the desire to meet community housing needs.

This spring we’re building an inclusive communities resource library that will make it easier for cities and towns to learn from one another to answer these kinds of questions. But as I was reminded on this trip, there’s no substitute for speaking with policymakers and program administrators face-to-face and hearing their issues and concerns directly. As the year unfolds I’m hoping there are more opportunities to make similar presentations and share national trends.  A big “mahalo” to EAH President Mary Murtagh, EAH Vice President Kevin Carney and Honolulu Housing Executive Director Jun Yang for their warm hospitality and organizing such a rewarding trip.

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