What Qualifies as Affordable Housing in Hawaii?

Generally, households qualify for affordable housing (AH) rental units if their income is below 80 percent of the Oahu Area Median Income (AMI). For AH units for sale, the income limit is 120 percent of the AMI. Affordable housing allows eligible and qualified applicants to buy at below-market prices. Purchase prices are based on revenue and revenue limits will vary depending on the project.

Income limits are a percentage of area median income (AMI), which is established by the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). For example, at the Kapiolani Residence, buyers' total household income cannot exceed 120% of the AMI.

In general, housing is considered “affordable” when the costs are equal to or less than 30% of household income. At this time, waiting lists for federal and state public housing programs from the Hawaii Public Housing Authority on Oahu are closed. However, some housing advocates and residents are concerned that the government's definition of affordable does not fit what working Maui families can actually afford. Depending on where the funding for a particular affordable housing development comes from, this means different things for tenants.

The affordable housing program allows eligible applicants to buy below the market price, which means they can own and live in a new condo in trendy neighborhoods like Kakaako or Ala Moana, even if they're not millionaires. After a wave of homebuyers from other states and high-wage remote tech workers who arrived in Maui during the pandemic, some housing advocates are concerned that the community's median income will rise and, eventually, the income limits for affordable housing will also increase. Designated affordable housing units are offered to “qualified residents” through a public lottery or lottery system. The 1998 Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act (QHWRA) allows federal public housing residents to have pets, as long as they follow pet ownership policies and procedures established by the public housing agency.

The Shared Appreciation Program (SAE) occurs when a landlord sells an affordable housing unit after having lived there for 10 years. The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC) is authorized under Chapter 201H of the Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) to develop or assist in the development of certain housing projects. The repurchase program requires the landlord to live in the newly purchased affordable housing unit as their primary residence for 10 years or for the duration of the program, if different. Different parts of the government have funds in their budgets to support the creation and maintenance of affordable housing.

On Oahu, affordable housing has become a popular term in the Kakaako neighborhood, where developers are required to offer a certain percentage of condos at affordable housing prices. Some of Maui's elected officials, including Councilman Gabe Johnson, chair of the affordable housing committee, have pledged to take a hard look at what the county considers “affordable” in the coming months. The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC) oversees all affordable housing in Hawaii, including financing and development.

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