We’ve all seen the news about housing prices reaching, once again, record levels in Maui County (“Maui home prices push the needle to new record highs,” The Maui News, April 7).
But what’s less well known is that some long-term residents are choosing to sell their family homes simply because they cannot afford to make necessary improvements. We need to take a new and innovative approach to help residents get their homes into a condition that will make them safe and ensure long-term housing.
Hawaiilife.com reported on the problem on Feb. 28 with an article titled “Home Remodeling Costs Got You Like, ‘WHOA?!’ “
And it’s a nationwide issue. On Dec. 16, Better Homes & Garden magazine reported that “high demand, supply shortages and delays are making repairs more complicated — and pricier.”
A significant barrier for homeowners to qualify for a home-improvement loan is the bank requirement to have costly permit-plan drawings in hand before the loan can be secured. I’m drafting legislation to take down this barrier for many families.
During the council’s ongoing budget session, I plan on introducing a proposal for a new fund of $240,000 in the Department of Housing and Human Concerns called the “Home Restoration Grant Program.” The fund will be accessible by property owners to help them restore — and keep living in — homes that are already built but need repairs to make them safe and habitable.
The proposed new grant would allow long-term homeowners to afford permit-plan drawings so they may qualify for home-improvement loans instead of needing to sell their homes.
Record home prices — along with concurrently rising tax assessments and maintenance costs — are among the factors that make long-term homeowners feel like they need to sell their homes. My colleagues and I are taking multifaceted approaches to address these issues and allow multigenerational kama’aina families to stay in their homes.
For instance, last year I joined all council members in voting to pass Bill 118 — the ‘Aina Kupuna bill — introduced by my colleague Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and recommended for passage by her Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee. Enacted as Ordinance 5307 on Dec. 6, Bill 118 allows Hawaiian descendants who have held on to their family property for the past 80 years to qualify for the lowest property tax rate.
Committee Report 21-195, recommending passage of Bill 118, stated that “some families have been forced to sell portions or, in some cases, all of their property because of the rising property tax costs as a result of speculation and ostentatious housing development in the area.” Families being forced to sell and leave their homes, for any reason, is one of the worst outcomes possible for Maui County’s social, cultural and economic well-being.
Many older homes occupied by multigenerational families are at risk of failing into disrepair from an array of factors, including weather impacts and wear and tear from years of habitation. Repairing these homes will give new life to the dwellings and give working families who have lived here for generations a chance to improve their living conditions while also giving them a sense of pride and hope for a brighter future.
The Home Restoration Grant Program fund would also make the possible improvements to eradicate hazardous or unhealthy living conditions.
Specifically, the new program would provide $30,000 grants for eight homes deemed unsafe for human habitation by the Department of Housing and Human Concerns.
A Home Restoration Grant Program grant could be used for the purpose of restoring the home to become safe for human habitation. Each participating home must be at least 30 years old.
To be eligible for the grant, the applicant must have been on the title at least 10 years or the lineal descendant of an owner who held the property for 10 or more years. If the grant recipient retains ownership of the home for 15 years, the grant will be forgiven.
If you think this proposed program is a good idea — or if you have ideas on making it better — please testify during the budget session, which runs throughout this month. Please check the calendar and review testimony instructions at mauicounty.us/2023-budget/.
* Michael J. Molina is chair of the Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee. He holds the council seat for the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.