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Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Kaʻū News Briefs July 9, 2024

An attendee at a public meeting in Pāhala on Tuesday, regarding assistance for creating affordable housing and other community infrastructure through federal Housing & Urban Development funding, photographs a map showing all of  Kaʻū and east Hawai'i qualifying by census tracts as Low/Moderate Income Areas. Photo by Julia Neal
 ALL OF KAʻŪ IS A LOW-TO-MODERATE INCOME AREA, according to the U.S. Census Tracts. It qualifies for assistance with affordable housing, community infrastructure and other help from the federal Housing & Urban Development agency and its numerous subsidiaries and programs. That was the message from the County of Hawai'i Office of Housing & Community Development agency, which sent its representatives to Kaʻū on Tuesday to start a series of regional community outreach meetings around the island.
    The meetings are held for community members to give their input on community needs to assist the County to qualify for funding of HUD Community Development Block Grants. The County is preparing its 2025-2029 Consolidated Plan to enhance the availability and affordability of decent, safe, and sanitary housing.
    The small group that attended the 1:30 p.m. meeting at Pāhala Community Center on Tuesday brought up housing for low income working people. One single mother with a child said she cannot qualify for 

Alisa Hanselman of County Housing & Community Development
was one of the presenters at the meeting to gather public
input for HUD funding. Photo by Julia Neal

many housing assistance programs because she makes too much money, but that income is not enough to cover renting a home and other living expenses. It is also not enough to buy any house. County representatives said her situation is known as ALICE, which stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed persons. ALICE families generally have more income than those who meet rquirments for HUD housing programs.
    Input to the County during the meeting included the need for housing for young families, and also for teachers, nurses, agricultural and National Park workers, as well as those who work in retail.
    While Pāhala, for example, is a town of modest homes with the rate of home ownership higher than the state average, there is still a housing need for young people wanting to stay and work here and to find their own place.

    To build new affordable dwelling units, HUD money would go to a nonprofit agency that builds affordable housing. Other financing would be sought and typically the HUD money would be one of the final pieces of the financing. Such projects usually take years to plan and finance, said the County representatives.
    A senior citizen said that senior housing where she lives won't allow her daughter and grandson to live there. She asked when affordable housing for younger people will be available.
    Smaller projects that could help with affordable housing include programs to renovate 
existing units. One incentive mentioned by County representatives is that landlords receive a property tax break if they commit to affordable housing. It was noted that there are many unoccupied homes in Kaʻū that, with renovation, could become part of the affordable housing solution.

    For new housing, it was noted that Habitat for Humanity, which involves future homeowners in building their own homes, receives federal funding through the County.
    It was also noted that there is no facility for homeless people in Kaʻū and that churches, non-profits and individuals often help those in need of housing.
    It was also mentioned that local people building additional dwelling units on properties already owned by them could contribute to solving the affordable housing problem. One of the challenges is paying for new septic systems for the properties, as use of old cesspools and the old plantation sewer lines would not be allowed.
    Qualifying renovations of existing homes to create affordable rentals can be done throughout Kaʻū 

Give suggestions for affordable housing
and other community improvements
through this County survey.
under HUD regulations. For construction of new units, however, there is a restriction. HUD is unable to provide financing for new dwellings in Lava Zones 1 and 2, which include all of Ocean View and land on the Kona side of South Point Road, plus a strip of land from Volcano to Punalu'u makai of Highway 11. The aim is to discourage new construction of dwellings in Lava Zones 1 and 2 but to help upgrade existing units. HUD funding can also be used to improve infrastructure that helps the communities in Lava Zones 1 and 2, such as park improvements or buying a firetruck.
    Community infrastructure mentioned included the need for new lighting for the ballparks, which have gone dark at Nāʻālehu and Pāhala. They also included a proposed dialysis center for  Kaʻū. County representatives suggested connecting with nonprofits to propose projects that would meet the needs of Kaʻū people. They noted that HUD money was used to improve accessibility to Pāhala Community Center and ballpark. Funds went toward buying a brush truck for firefighters in Kaū and improvements to volunteer fire stations in Na'alehu and Pāhala.
    Those who could not participate in the Kaʻū meeting can participate by zoom on Monday, July 15 at 5 p.m. Register at https://tinyurl.com/34rnx9tc. Also, see other meetings to attend, live, around the island at https://www.housing.hawaiicounty.gov/grants-funding.
    A statement from the County says, "Persons unable to attend a meeting are encouraged to take the Survey of Housing and Community Development Needs and Priorities for the 2025-2029 Consolidated Plan. This survey is part of the consultation process to hear the community's input on how federal dollars should be applied towards housing, special needs, homeless and community development priorities for the 2025-2029 Consolidated Plan.

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