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State bills would keep Front Street Apartments’ units affordable

By Staff | Feb 8, 2018

LAHAINA – Bills to preserve the Front Street Apartments as an affordable rental housing project are moving through the Hawaii State Legislature.

Senate Bill 2293 and House Bill 2006 passed the House and Senate Housing Committees last week Tuesday.

Introduced by Sixth District Sen. Roz Baker of Lahaina, the measure would direct the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., or the appropriate state entity, to initiate negotiations to keep the units of the Front Street Apartments in Lahaina affordable, or to acquire the property unless certain conditions are met. The bill would also appropriate funds.

The 3900 Corporation is the leasehold fee owner of the applicable real property, and Front Street Affordable Housing Partners Limited Partnership owns the improvements constructed upon the property.

The next challenge will be getting the bills passed in the legislature’s “Money Committees” – the Senate Ways and Means and House Finance committees.

Front Street Apartments tenant Reuben Pali and West Maui Taxpayers Association President Joseph Pluta were among the people who traveled to the State Capitol hearings last week to support keeping rents affordable at the apartment complex along Kenui Place near Mala.

Waiahole-Waikane Community Association President Pat Royos, Ota Camp Association President Yvette Burdett, Kokua Hawaii leader Larry Kamawawiwoole and Rev. Kekaha Lee of United Church of Christ were also present to support the measure before state lawmakers.

The Front Street Apartments provide affordable housing to more than 250 low-income residents.

It was developed in 2001 as an affordable rental housing project with 142 units, using state financing and tax credits, and the apartments were expected to remain affordable to low-income tenants for 50 years.

Owners of the Front Street Apartments recently exercised an option to remove the property from affordability requirements that were tied to the development of the property.

This change will allow them to begin renting available apartments at market rates and to raise rents for existing tenants within a few years.

According to the bill, “The legislature further finds that many tenants of the Front Street Apartments were not previously aware of this threat to their housing and are worried that the removal of affordability requirements could leave them homeless. There is a severe shortage of affordable housing on the island of Maui, especially in West Maui, which will be exacerbated by the conversion of the Front Street Apartments to market-rate housing.

“The legislature also finds that the tenants, surrounding community, and the island of Maui would benefit from the active intervention of the State in this situation to ensure that there is no negative impact on current and future tenants of the Front Street Apartments.”

The public can review the bills and submit testimony at www.capitol.hawaii.gov.