Civil Beat: “Honolulu $93K Is Now Considered Low-Income For Honolulu Family Of 4”

Earning $93,000 per year sounds like a hefty salary, but not in Honolulu.

New federal guidelines now consider an income of up to $93,300 to be low-income in Honolulu for a family of four.

The city of Honolulu published the new income levels Monday showing the city’s median income grew to $96,000 — more than a 10 percent jump from $86,600 last year.

“Based on past experience — I’ve been doing this over 20 years — I don’t remember encountering such a large bump in the income limits,” said Kevin Carney, who works for the nonprofit housing developer EAH Housing. He said the changes likely mean that more people will be eligible for income-qualified units, but rents may rise.

The new guidelines say a salary of $65,350 or less in Honolulu is now low-income for a single person, and a salary as high as $123,200 is now low income for a family of eight. The Department of Housing and Urban Development calculates the data based on the census and inflation and considers salaries 80 percent or below the median to be low-income.

The numbers are important because they’re used to determine the rent for low-income housing units and the price of new for-sale units mandated by the city. The increase means that people can earn more than before and still be eligible for income-qualified units. It also could allow some developers to charge higher rents for low-income units.

Seniors protest rental increases at Na Lei Hulu Kupuna in Kakaako in February. The state reinstituted a rental subsidy in response to concerns.

Anita Hofschneider/Civil Beat

Craig Watase, an affordable housing developer at Mark Development in Kaimuki, said the changes are positive.

“This is good news that people’s incomes are going up as a whole,” Watase said. “If people are making more money then as a whole people can afford to pay more rent.”

Watase runs a senior housing complex in Kakaako where seniors recently protested a planned rent increase. Watase is subsidizing existing tenants and said the state recently agreed to subsidize rents as well to ensure existing residents can afford the increase for at least the next two years.

Watase said HUD’s new numbers mean that he could increase rents even further, but he doesn’t plan to do so. “Even though we are allowed to raise the rents higher my budget is such that I don’t think we are going to need to.”

Like Watase, Carney said the news is good. “From our perspective we are going to see more people qualifying to live in our properties. We do get a lot of people that apply that are over-income,” Carney said. “We’re catching another 10 percent in society who are now eligible to apply.”

He said rent increases in EAH Housing’s low-income rental properties happen every year anyway to account for higher operating costs.

“It’s necessary to have some type of a rent increase whether it’s a budget-based rent increase or whether it’s an increase because the income levels went up,” Carney says. “I don’t expect that we’ll see a large impact as far as displacing tenants. We’ve never seen that in the past.”

The changes could also affect for-sale units built under city guidelines. Developers who get rezoning approval in Honolulu must set aside a certain amount of units as affordable, and some can be sold to people earning as much as 40 percent above the median income.

The new HUD numbers mean that an individual earning as much as $114,360 could qualify to purchase an affordable housing unit, or a family of four earning as much as $163,280.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the City Council recently approved a new housing policy for some development around future rail stations. The idea is to make sure that new housing in gentrifying neighborhoods isn’t always too expensive for typical Honolulu residents.

The new policy allows developers to build for-sale units for residents earning as much as 20 percent over the median income. Now an individual earning as much as $98,020 or a family of four earning $139,960 per year could qualify for these units.

HUD issues new income guidelines annually and they vary widely by area. The income limits also affect federal programs like housing subsidies and public housing.

The Maui News: “A&B reports progress in ag and real estate”

A&B reports progress in ag and real estate

CEO: Ag diversification is difficult; may not go according to timeline

Work continues recently on the Alexander & Baldwin joint venture Keala o Wailea condominium development. The project near the entrance to Wailea off Piilani Highway is scheduled to have 70 luxury two- and three-bedroom condos. During a conference call with investors last week, A&B officials reported that 19 units have closed for sale so far this year with another 48 units in binding contracts and two in nonbinding contracts. • The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

While Alexander & Baldwin continues work to diversify its Maui agricultural lands, redeploying 4,500 acres of former sugar cane lands last year, the company sees progress as slow, difficult and unlikely to turn a profit, A&B President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Benjamin told investors in a telephone conference call last week. Continue reading “The Maui News: “A&B reports progress in ag and real estate””

Star-Advertiser: “A&B profit soars after tax benefit”

A&B profit soars after tax benefit

A $225 million tax benefit in the fourth quarter helped major Hawaii retail property owner Alexander & Baldwin Inc. earn $231 million last year that grossly overshadowed an $8 million loss the year before.

Honolulu-based A&B announced its latest financial results Wednesday and said the tax benefit mainly related to its conversion last year to a real estate investment trust. The recent federal tax overhaul also would have had a similar effect.

As a REIT, A&B was able to erase about $220 million in deferred tax obligations that it incurred from selling mainly commercial real estate over many years. A&B deferred paying taxes on gains from the sales by using proceeds to buy other properties, though the company could have had to pay the taxes one day if it sold the properties without reinvesting proceeds in more real estate. Continue reading “Star-Advertiser: “A&B profit soars after tax benefit””

Peter Greenberg News: “When A Destination is Too Popular: The Problem With Overtourism”

When A Destination is Too Popular: The Problem With Overtourism

Travel and tourism accounts for 10.2 percent of the world’s GDP. That’s the equivalent of 7.6 trillion dollars, and one in every ten jobs on the planet is related to the tourism industry. So it’s easy to understand why every nation wants a piece of the pie—especially when those numbers are expected to continue to grow. But what happens when it becomes too much of a good thing? In this segment from season four of The Travel Detective, Peter Greenberg explores the growing problem of overtourism.

Continue reading “Peter Greenberg News: “When A Destination is Too Popular: The Problem With Overtourism””

The Maui News: “Waikapu project gets approval of Land Use panel”

Waikapu project gets approval of Land Use panel

Zoning change for Waikapu Country Town development

The nearly 500-acre Waikapu Country Town project has received unanimous approval from the state Land Use Commission for critical changes. A state district boundary amendment allows a change from agricultural to rural for 150 acres and from agricultural to urban for 335 acres for development north and south of the Maui Tropical Plantation.

The commission’s action came Thursday during a videoconference call.

In early December, the commission met for two days at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to hear public comments and testimony from project consultants. Nearly all the comments were favorable to the project that several said revised its development plans in response to community and environmental concerns. Continue reading “The Maui News: “Waikapu project gets approval of Land Use panel””

Civil Beat: “Economists: Financial Challenges Are Looming For Hawaii”

Economists: Financial Challenges Are Looming For Hawaii

Hawaii needs to build a lot more homes and tourists need to spend a lot more money to keep the economy growing in the coming years.

That was the message to lawmakers from some of the state’s top economists during a daylong briefing Tuesday at the Capitol.

With the Legislature set to convene Jan. 17, members of the House and Senate money committees, chaired by Rep. Sylvia Luke and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, called on Eugene Tian, the state economist; Carl Bonham of the University of Hawaii’s Economic Research Organization; Laurel Johnston, Gov. David Ige’s acting budget director; and others to paint them a picture of Hawaii’s financial future and discuss budget priorities.

“There are a lot of short-term ups, but it looks like we should be prepared for some long-term downs,” Dela Cruz said after the briefing. “There’s no doubt that if we don’t take some action the budget will be much, much tighter in future years.” Continue reading “Civil Beat: “Economists: Financial Challenges Are Looming For Hawaii””

Civil Beat: “Why Hawaii Residents Can’t Build Their Own Private Power Grids”

When R.J. Martin was planning a small subdivision of seven homes, each powered with photovoltaic solar cells and large Tesla Powerwall batteries, there was one idea that was quickly dimissed: the notion of linking the homes together with a small power grid that would let the homeowners share surplus power with one another.

It was a good idea, says Martin, who is developing the Green Homes Hanalei Street project with engineering assistance from the Honolulu solar company Revolusun. Continue reading “Civil Beat: “Why Hawaii Residents Can’t Build Their Own Private Power Grids””

Hawai’i Independent: “Ho‘opili: The fate of prime agricultural land in Hawai‘i”

Ho‘opili: The fate of prime agricultural land in Hawai‘i

By Will Caron, September 4, 2013

Ho‘opili, some of the best land for farming in the State, has been arbitrarily exempted from Important Agricultural Land protection and seems doomed to be paved over and turned into a housing development.

Leon Sollenburger has worked with soil for decades. From Pearl Harbor to the North Shore, he’s worked on everything from the former Del Monte lands in Kunia to the former Dole lands north of Wahiawā and yes—Ho‘opili too.
So respected is Sollenburger’s opinion on soil that he was appointed to the advisory committee for Important Ag Land (IAL) designation on O‘ahu. IAL designation protects agricultural land from being converted to other land use designations. In the 1970s the State began to require each county to designate its IALs. None of the counties has ever complied with that rule, including Honolulu county, until now. On O‘ahu, we are finally in the process of designating these IALs. If it were up to Sollenburger, Ho‘opili would be priority one for IAL protection in Honolulu county, but unfortunately it isn’t up to him.
“The first night the advisory committee met we were informed, in no uncertain terms, that no land within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) would be considered for IAL,” says Sollenburger. “That specifically excludes Ho‘oplili. So, when you hear that Ho‘opili is not ‘Important Agricultural Land,’ that’s the reason why.”

A place like no other in the State
There’s no doubt that Ho‘opili is important ag land, even if it isn’t IAL.
“I personally think that this is some of the most productive agricultural land in the State and if there’s any piece of ground that ought to be designated as Important Agricultural Land, it should be this piece,” says Sollenburger. “But it is not eligible for consideration.”
So what makes Ho‘opili such a unique place?
“There are lots of places on O‘ahu that have good, level soils,” says Sollenburger. “There are lots of places on O‘ahu that have water. There are lots of places on O‘ahu where various crops will grow. Ho‘opili is unique because it has a combination of those factors that no other place on O‘ahu, and really very few other places in the entire state, can put together in one package.”
1. Ho‘opili is flat. It’s easy to work with large equipment on and most of the land there can be put in to production of agriculture.
2. This is a part of the island with very little cloud cover. In the list of requirements to grow a crop, sunshine is right there at the top. However, this does mean that irrigation will be required for Ho‘opili.
3. Water is the next ingredient. While it’s true that rainfall is lower here than it needs to be, the water table at Ho‘opili is not all that deep. Therefore a supply of good quality clean water can be put into use here at a reasonable cost through wells which wouldn’t need to be all that deep.
4. There is one more factor to consider, and it’s a factor that Ho‘opili beats nearly every other piece of agricultural land in Oahu on: Its proximity to the markets. The Wai‘anae coast, the North Shore and Waimānalo are all much farther away from Honolulu. Farmers in these areas have to factor in the cost of transportation, gas and time stuck in traffic (which is time away from making the fields productive).
“Let me repeat something I said to the Land Use Commission,” says Sollenburger. “If we have the most fertile soil we could ever ask for, abundant water, but we don’t have sunshine, we’re not going to get a good crop. You can’t compensate for the lack of sunshine by adding more nitrogen fertilizer. You can’t compensate for lack of nitrogen by adding more water. None of those things will substitute for the other. You have to have the whole package and Ho‘opili represents that whole package.”
Currently there is a PR campaign underway on the part of the landowners, D.R. Horton-Schuler, to convince us that part of Ho‘opili will be set aside for agriculture.
“If you look at the map, the areas that are being designated for ag-use in Ho‘opili are the gulches,” says Sollenburger. “These areas are not suitable for agriculture and setting them aside as such is really a sham.”
These areas are too steep to drive a tractor on. At the bottom of the gulches, where it’s flat again, you encounter rock, not soil. The only way to grow plants in the gulches would be with terracing, or green housing or some other hydroponics system that would control light and water levels and keep them adequate (all of which are expensive choices).
“That’s not really agriculture, and it’s certainly not cost-effective when you compare that to open field production,” says Sollenburger.

Water concerns
Every single piece of land that was proposed as replacement ag-land for Ho‘opili during the Land Use Commission’s hearings is at a higher elevation, has higher cloud cover and, in most cases, has less available high-quality water.
Practically every piece of ag-land from Wahiawā to the North Shore is irrigated with water from Lake Wilson. Lake Wilson is an artificial lake outside Wahiawā that captures water from two streams that come out of the mountains.
“It would be good, clean water, except for one thing,” says Sollenburger. “The Wahiawā waste-water treatment plant discharges its effluent into the lake.”
That effluent is classified as R2, a category of waste-water that is acceptable for certain forms of agriculture, but has restrictions on what it can be used for. It can be used to grow plants as long as the part of the plant that is used or consumed does not come in contact with the water.
“For example, you can use it to grow banana trees or sweet corn,” says Sollenburger. “In either case the water is applied to the ground while the harvested part of the plant grows above ground. You could not use it to grow potatoes, carrots, onions or anything that grows below ground.”
Any water supply that has any part of it contributed from an R2 source renders the entire water supply R2. From Wahiawā to Hale‘iwa—all that land is watered by Lake Wilson and therefore considered off limits to many different kinds of vegetable and fruit production.
Ho‘opili has clean ground water that can be extracted cheaply. Ho‘opili has tons of sunshine year-round. And for a farmer working in irrigated fields, that’s a huge advantage. In other places, even Kunia, during the winter the rainfall can be sufficient to make it almost impossible to farm those fields for weeks or even months at a time.
“I don’t care who farms it. I don’t care what they grow on it either. That doesn’t really matter,” says Sollenburger. “What matters is this: A productive piece of soil, with water and infrastructure, has the potential to grow just about anything. And in years to come, that potential is what we need to save. If that potential is gone, it is gone and you’ll never get it back.”

The Maui News: “Progress made in converting old sugar cane lands”

Progress made in converting old sugar cane lands

Half of company’s 36,000 acres may be leased more quickly than expected – A&B

Valley Isle property sales and progress in diversifying former Maui sugar lands were among the highlights of Alexander & Baldwin’s third-quarter financial report, released Tuesday.

Overall, for the three months ending Sept. 30, A&B reported net income attributable to shareholders of $6.1 million (13 cents per diluted share), compared with a $1.9 million (3 cents per share) for the same period last year during the yearlong closure of the 36,000-acre Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. plantation on Maui.

The company told investors that its ongoing discontinued operations costs were $800,000 (2 cents per share) for the recently ended quarter, compared with $13.6 million (27 cents per share) for last year’s third quarter. Continue reading “The Maui News: “Progress made in converting old sugar cane lands””