By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 08/19/07)
As the curtain fell on the 2007 legislative session, one political observer noted in his weekly column in one of the Honolulu dailies that:
“An even older piece of handiwork was the $25 million appropriated this year — to be matched with another $25 million next year — to purchase a portion of the low- and moderate-income Kukui Gardens housing project. The project was built 30 years ago and has been a fine public service since then. The Legislature’s action will save those houses, but $50 million later there will be no new low-cost homes.”
Since that time, we have learned that any proceeds from the sale of Kukui Gardens must be used for affordable housing. While some are trying to get the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to waive that stipulation, one has to ask why would the taxpayer want to let those funds be used for purposes other than affordable housing, especially here in Hawaii.
Indeed the rush to find a solution, be it a waiver for the sale proceeds or halting the sale of the 18-acre parcel to some developer, is being driven solely by the politics of the situation. Kukui Gardens is a veritable political hot potato because the implication is that these poor families will be kicked out on the street and the politicians want to make sure that they are viewed as champions of the underdog. However, what everybody seems to have overlooked, if not downright ignored, is that last line from the political observer, that some “$50 million later there will be no new low-cost homes.”
Those are taxpayer dollars and all we as taxpayers will get is the same number of units that are there now or perhaps even less as the appropriation is to purchase only a portion of the current 800 units at Kukui Gardens. While one can empathize with the current residents of the project, one has to question why we, as taxpayers, are being asked to put up that kind of money to keep the status quo when there are literally hundreds of families living on the beach? Why are we, as taxpayers, not getting more affordable housing than there is now at this project?
As it was noted in a commentary earlier this year, Kukui Gardens is nothing more than a re-run of a very similar situation where the vocal minority literally stopped others from attaining that dream of an affordable roof over their head. This was the infamous Date-Laau project that stopped a developer from adding to the inventory of housing stock in Hawaii. Even a head of one of the local banks took note of the disaster of Date-Laau and the impact that decision had on the stock of housing in Honolulu.
Now it appears that politicians at all levels want to pass off the hot potato as quickly as they can with little or no thought being given to the lost opportunity that Kukui Gardens represents. Redeveloping this 18-acre footprint in downtown Honolulu does not necessarily mean that the replacement cannot be affordable housing. Waiving the covenant that the proceeds of the sale can only be used for affordable housing is a violation of the trust that the taxpayers were given when those funds were loaned from the federal government to build the project.
In this time when the question of affordable housing is on the front burner, allowing the status quo at this major footprint in downtown Honolulu is a missed opportunity to use taxpayers’ dollars wisely, instead, they are being used to satisfy the political correctness of elected officials. Instead of increasing the inventory of housing, elected officials are allowing a vocal minority to cheat others, who have no shelter over their heads, from the opportunity to have some place to live.
The ideal compromise will not come easily, but it warrants time and careful thought to use this asset wisely and for the greater good of the community. The choice is to use taxpayer dollars to maintain the status quo or to use those tax dollars to benefit even more families who need affordable housing. The political pandering that has beset this issue insures that our tax dollars will not be used wisely but squandered to satisfy a few in the name of sticking up for the underdog.
Let’s hope that someone will see through the smoke and mirrors of this political hot potato.