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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Kaʻū News Briefs, Wednesday, April 19, 2023

     Liko A'e Keiki plus One
Volcano Art Center offers the Liko A’e Keiki plus One workshop at VAC’s Niaulani Campus, Saturday, April 22 from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. It is open to keiki 7-13 years of age and one adult. The workshop gives keiki and their parent, grandparent or any adult,
 a memorable opportunity to explore the arts together. The classes include hand-building with clay, drawing, Hawaiian rhythms
 in the coral reef, and zentangle. Register and see events at volcanoartcenter.org. Image from Volcano Art Center

COUNTY COUNCIL MEMBERS OVERRODE MAYOR MITCH ROTH'S VETO on Wednesday. The bill will involve the Council in situations where a developer needs an extension of time to start or finish a project to comply with the land's rezoning conditions. The extensions were usually handled by the Planning Department. The language of the bill says, "Requests to change or alter the conditions of any change of zone ordinance shall be processed in the same manner as a zone change, unless the Council authorizes the changes or alterations to be made by the director."

Council member Michelle Galimba
 said she is concerned about impediments
 to building affordable housing.
    Kaʻū's County Council member Michelle Galimba voted with the minority against the veto. She said the veto could put a damper on construction of needed housing in the community. She said that affordable housing projects must work under tight budgets and timelines in order to make use of tax credit and other subsidy programs for affordable housing. "It is my understanding that it can easily take an affordable developer close to five years just to get the financing and permitting done for a project, and that is if all goes well."
    Galimba said that it is her perception that "many of my friends in the environmental community would find the argument that this bill increases uncertainty for developers to be a feature and not a bug of this bill and perhaps support this bill because it will slow development on this island. I feel that this is a mistaken position as creating this kind of uncertainty in the development community will disproportionately impact affordable housing developers who are already working under incredibly difficult conditions in our market, with skyrocketing prices of materials, insurance and land.

    "By impeding affordable housing, we are pushing more people out to our sprawling substandard subdivisions, causing more emissions and traffic on the road, and decreasing wellbeing and affordability on this island, by decreasing the opportunity for young people to start out in life by getting an affordable rental near their job, for instance."

    She said she understands the stated impetus for the County Council members who passed the bill, in a desire to increase transparency of decision-making about extensions through bringing them into the public forum of a County Council meeting. 

Mayor Mitch Roth said he wants
to avoid making affordable housing
more expensive.
    Galimba said, however, that "the bill strays over the boundary between the proper oversight function of the Council into direct management of processes by the Council, which is a questionable path to head down as a matter of governance practice, in my opinion. Furthermore, there are many who argue that this Bill is necessary due to a perception that our current Director of Planning is unilaterally authorizing extensions. I have not seen any actual evidence of this in the public record, and I don't think that making policy based on personal animus is a sound practice."
    Galimba suggested the Council could ask for quarterly or annual reports of project deadlines so that the Council and public can stay informed and engaged with project deadlines.

    Mayor Mitch Roth also responded to the veto:"It's disappointing that the Council chose to pass an imperfect bill today that will limit the County's flexibility to appropriately condition rezoning ordinances — adding expense, uncertainty, and difficulty to the rezoning process, ensuring we maintain our position as the most regulated County in the nation. That said, the Council has made its decision, and we will respect it and move forward accordingly. Should we be able to revisit the language, we will stand ready to engage in that process. Otherwise, our administration will continue to make strides toward getting local families into homes and local builders onto job sites." 

    The Mayor also said, "We would like to thank those Council members who stood by our veto — understanding the importance of transparency while refusing to pass unsound legislation."

To read comments, add your own, and like this story, see facebook.com/kaucalendar. See latest print edition at kaucalendar.com, in the mail and on stands.

LANDLORDS WHO WILL WORK WITH THE COUNTY TO HELP SOLVE HOUSING SHORTAGES, providing rentals to Veterans, the Non-Elderly and Disabled, and Foster Young Adult voucher holders can net a bonus. The bonus also applies to landlords providing Emergency Housing. 
Susan Kunz, County of Hawai'i
Housing Administrator
     The Hawaiʻi County Office of Housing and Community Development announced on Wednesday the offer of $3,000 sign-on bonuses for Hawaiʻi Island landlords taking part in select housing assistance programs.
    Landlords who partner with the Office may be eligible to receive a one-time $3,000 incentive payment when renting with a one-year lease. Property owners with multiple open units could receive $3,000 per unit. By offering the $3,000 sign-on bonus, the Office hopes to increase the number of Landlords on Hawaiʻi Island participating in the program to provide more housing opportunities for participants holding vouchers.
     “Addressing the homelessness and affordable housing crises requires collaboration and partnerships. This new incentive program launched through the Hawaiʻi County Office of Housing and Community Development seeks to leverage the units of affordable housing available now on Hawaiʻi Island to help those in need to deliver real results,” said County Housing Administrator Susan Kunz. “This investment will ensure the successful delivery of this program into the community.”
    According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s most recent The Gap report issued in March 2023, Hawaiʻi in 2021 had just 89 affordable and available homes per 100 renter households earning at or below 100% Area Median Income (AMI). For low-income renter households, those earning at or below 80% AMI, there were just 74 units per 100 households. The figure drops to 34 units per 100 households at or below 30% AMI.
    “Sustainability is about making sure that our local families can thrive here for generations, which, in turn, means having a place to live and call home,” said Mayor Mitch Roth. “There are a lot of great families out there who just need to be given a chance, and that’s what this incentive program is all about – a chance for hard-working local people to find a good, stable home."
    This shortage of affordable rental housing units makes it difficult for voucher recipients to find or keep an affordable housing rental unit in Hawai’i County. In any given month, up to 100 participants with vouchers are searching for a safe place to call home.
    “Many Hawaiʻi Island renters are struggling to find a place, and our housing voucher program participants are no different,” said Existing Housing Division Manager Michael Yee.  “This incentive program will bring more of our housing stock into the reach of voucher holders because, as we all know, stable, affordable housing is critical to a person’s health, dignity, safety, inclusion, and overall contribution to their community.”
    The Landlord Incentive Program will end upon the depletion of available federal funding. Full program details can be found at www.hawaiicounty.gov/landlords.
    Interested Landlords are also encouraged to sign-up for the Office’s next New Landlord Orientation set for 9 a.m. May 24 in Hilo.
    For more information, visit hawaiicounty.gov/landlords, email landlord.housing@hawaiicounty.gov or call the Existing Housing Division at (808) 959-4642, ext. 1904.
    The Hawai’i County Office of Housing and Community Development is responsible for the planning, administration, and operation of all County of Hawai’i housing programs. Its Mission is to provide for the development of viable communities through decent housing, suitable living environments and expanded economic opportunities.

THE COUNTY EPIC SYSTEM FOR BUILDING AND OTHER PERMITS will be offline to the public from Friday, April 28 at 1 a.m. through Monday, May 1 at 8 a.m. Hawaiʻi County Department of Public Works Building Division made the announcement Wednesday that the Electronic Permitting & Information system will undergo an annual update, routine maintenance, and functional upgrades intended to improve workflow processes and access to historical permit records. While this work is being performed, the EPIC system will not accept new applications, plans, document uploads, or payments.
The Public Works statement thanks the community for patience and understanding in advance.

To read comments, add your own, and like this story, see facebook.com/kaucalendar. See latest print edition at kaucalendar.com, in the mail and on stands.

STATEWIDE, HAWAI'I EMPLOYERS STRUGGLE LESS WITH HIRING than employers in most states, though many employers in rural places like Kaʻū are challenged to find workers here. Hawai'i is the state with the tenth least hiring struggle for employees in the country, according to a WalletHub study released Wednesday. Nationwide, with the labor force participation rate at 62.6%, one of the lowest rates
in decades, WalletHub  released its report on 2023's States Where Employers Are Struggling the Most in Hiring.
   WalletHub explains: "During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of Americans lost their jobs and experienced financial difficulties due to unemployment. Now, for many employers, the shoe is on the other foot. Lots of businesses are struggling to hire enough workers, which has sometimes led to delays in services and reduced business hours. In fact, the labor force participation rate is still below pre-pandemic levels, and is at one of the lowest points in decades. Some businesses aren’t even able to keep the employees they already have – as Americans are quitting their jobs at record rates in what’s been dubbed the Great Resignation.”
    In order to see where employers are struggling the most in hiring, WalletHub compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia based on the rate of job openings for both the latest month and the last 12 months. The Hawai'i job openings rate during the latest month was 5.50%. Its job openings rate in the past 12 months was 6.47%. To view the full report and details on Hawai'i and other states with challenges in finding workers, visit https://wallethub.com/edu/states-employers-hiring/101730.

HIGHWAY 11 AT KAWA FLATS REOPENED WEDNESDAY MORNING at first with one lane traffic, after being closed over Tuesday night during a Flash Flood Warning.  Despite rain coming down most of the day, all schools were open on Wednesday.
     The closure over Tuesday night was at Kawā Flats, from mile markers 57 near Ninoole Loop to milemarker 63 toward Nā'ālehu. Kalaiki Rd, the old sugar cane haul road through the mountains between Nā'ālehu and Pāhala, was also closed due to flooding. Gulches in Wood Valley were also reported as flooded, with some floodwaters blocking travel. Civil Defense sent out numerous warnings.



Volcano Thursday Market, Cooper Center, Volcano Village, Thursdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., with live music, artisan crafts, ono grinds, and fresh produce. See Volcano Evening Market facebook.

Volcano Swap Meet, fourth Saturday of the month from 8 a.m. to noon. Large variety of vendors with numerous products. Tools, clothes, books, toys, local made healing extract and creams, antiques, jewelry, gemstones, crystals, food, music, plants, fruits, and vegetables. Also offered are cakes, coffee, and shave ice. Live music. 

Volcano Farmers Market, Cooper Center, Volcano Village on Sundays, 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., with local produce, baked goods, food to go, island beef and Ka'ū Coffee. EBT is used for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly Food Stamps. Call 808-967-7800.

O Ka'ū Kākou Market, Nā'ālehu, Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Contact Nadine Ebert at 808-938-5124 or June Domondon 808-938-4875. See facebook.com/OKauKakouMarket.

Ocean View Community Market, Saturdays and Wednesdays, 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., corner Kona Dr. Drive and Hwy 11, near Thai Grindz. Masks mandatory. 100-person limit, social distancing required. Gate unlocked for vendors at 5:30 a.m., $15 dollars, no rez needed. Parking in the upper lot. Vendors must provide their own sanitizer. Food vendor permits required. Carpooling is encouraged.