‘ELE‘ELE — Members of the House Finance Committee toured two project sites on Monday that they hope will benefit from bills they intend to pass during next year’s legislative session.
At Kauai Habitat for Humanity’s Ele‘ele Iluna Affordable Housing Project, the legislators heard how affordable housing units are built and got to know the process from a practical standpoint, one of the primary reasons for the visit, according to Finance Committee Chair Rep. Sylvia Luke.
“It’s one thing for the administration to introduce a bill,” she said, explaining that lawmakers who author proposals sometimes have “no idea how it works.”
Rep. Nadine Nakamura, of House District 14, which includes Hanalei, Princeville, Kilauea, Anahola, Kapaa and Wailua, said the committee members decided to visit the Habitat for Humanity work site because the organization has been so successful creating homes for low-income families.
“They have their act together,” Nakamura said.
Luke said she and her colleagues will be reworking proposals that failed to pass during the 2019 legislative session in hopes of amending the state’s regulatory structure to expedite the process of approving loans for the construction of affordable housing units.
The state Legislature allocated $200 million for affordable housing in 2018, but Luke said that since then, the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation has yet to expend the majority of those funds, “and that’s a problem.”
“They didn’t spend even close to half of that in a year,” she said. “It doesn’t serve anyone when the agency sits on over $100 million in cash.”
Luke said a bill that would have established revolving funds for affordable housing programs failed during the 2019 session because HHFDC officials “didn’t do a good job explaining” how they planned to expedite spending and that in the upcoming legislative session, lawmakers will be seeking “better clarity” on the process before approving any further funding.
Kauai Habitat’s Executive Director, Stephen Spears, said the funding approved by the Legislature in 2018 has already helped them increase the number of homes they can build, going from 15 completed in the previous fiscal year to 24 this year.
Spears expects Kauai Habitat to complete 30 homes next year and said that number could jump to 40 or 50 if lawmakers are able to push through the revolving fund bills next year.
Shantel Amulacion, 37, whose new home was completed in September, said she worked on the house “pretty much every day” for about four months, “with me taking days off from two jobs” in order to keep up with the 30 hours of construction work per week required by the program.
Amulacion and her family are still waiting for an inspection and for loan paperwork to be completed before they are officially the owners of their new home, which she said will probably be done in January.
Amulacion said that in addition to her three jobs — she is a nurse, a concierge and “sells coffee at Starbucks” — she came out to volunteer at the job site “pretty much every day.” She also helps build the homes for her new neighbors.
Milani Pimental, deputy director of Kauai Habitat, said Amulacion has spent time on eight of the 10 houses in the new neighborhood over the last several months.
“Now she’s one of our best roofers,” Pimental said.
Finance Committee members also toured Omao Lands hemp farm, where Daryl Kaneshiro gave them a tour of the new production facilities he has set up in anticipation of state legislation legalizing the sale and production of the crop.
The federal government removed the crop from its list of controlled substances in 2018, and the Legislature passed a bill establishing an industrial hemp licensing program, but the bill ultimately was vetoed by Gov. David Ige in July, a decision that, according to Luke was based on “a lot of misunderstanding.”
Nakamura and Luke said they are not giving up on the bill and plan to reintroduce it during the next legislative session, hoping to change the way Ige and members of his administration think about the issue in the mean time rather than make amendments to the proposal.
“People kind of look at hemp as the same thing as marijuana, and it’s not,” Luke said. “We just need to educate the governor and the State Department.”
She said the trip to Omao Ranch helped reassure her that the hemp production facility was abiding by federal regulations and taking appropriate steps to ensure the crop didn’t pollinate outside marijuana plants.
The House Finance Committee members will visit Haena State Park this morning for a briefing on efforts to control visitor impact on the area.