The Senate Committee on Appropriations advanced the Fiscal Year 2015 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill, which delivers funding for programs that build the nation's transportation network and invest in infrastructure and affordable housing projects. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai"i) secured and increased funding for several programs key to reducing housing and transportation costs for Hawai"i residents in the bill.
"Honolulu made an important decision to build rail transit, and it is the federal government's responsibility to make sure that this transit system is fully supported. This bill guarantees the Honolulu Rail Transit project will have the funding it needs to stay on track and moving forward," Senator Schatz said. "Affordable housing and homelessness are big challenges in Hawai"i. This legislation will provide critical funding that will give our most vulnerable families options and access to housing."
Senator Schatz secured more than $21 billion for affordable housing programs vital to Hawai"i families, including the Section 8 low-income housing program, the Public Housing Capital fund, and the Choice Neighborhoods program. Senator Schatz worked with appropriators to protect funding for key Native Hawaiian housing programs eliminated in the House bill. He also ensured $250 million would be set aside for Honolulu's rail project in FY 2015.
Funding for programs important to Hawai"i includes:
Honolulu Rail Transit - Capital Investment Grants - $250 million
The bill delivers $2.163 billion, an increase of $220 million, to the transit capital investment grant program to help communities build new rail and bus rapid transit capacity. The bill specifically offers $250 million in 2015 to fund Honolulu Rail Transit. Rail Transit will provide a fast, safe, reliable alternative to driving and eliminate tens of thousands of car trips every day from Oahu's busy roads. This new transportation alternative will lessen auto pollution and dependence on imported oil. Senator Schatz serves on the Surface Transportation Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Schatz secured Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx's support for the project both in writing and in conversations during his Senate confirmation process. Senator Schatz also signed a letter with six Senate colleagues asking the Appropriations Committee to fully fund the 2015 budget of the FTA capital investment grant program.
Affordable Housing Programs
The bill provides $19.5 billion for HUD's Section 8 Tenant-Based Rental Assistance. Section 8 funds vouchers for over 6,000 Hawai"i residents. The increase of nearly $1.5 billion since FY 2013 enabled Oahu's Section 8 office to accept new applications in May of this year after closing the list in 2005. The bill also appropriates $1.9 billion to the Public Housing Capital Fund. The Public Housing Capital Fund sends over $9 million annually to Hawai"i to improve the quality of the state's public housing. The bill also provides $90 million to the Choice Neighborhoods program, which awards grants to states for creating affordable, safe neighborhoods. Hawai"i successfully won a grant under this program for the revitalization of the Kuhio Homes public housing community.
Native Hawaiian Housing Development Block Grant - Enhances Homeownership and Home Renovation Opportunities for Native Hawaiian Families on Hawaiian Home Lands - $10 million
This bill provides $10 million for the Native Hawaiian Housing Block Grant (NHHBG) program which is equal to the FY14 enacted level. The NHHBG program provides the State Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) with funds for new home construction, rehabilitation, acquisition, infrastructure, and support services for low-income Native Hawaiians. There are more than 26,546 individuals on the waiting list to reside on the home lands and an estimated 32,460 potential Native Hawaiian applicants. DHHL has indicated that level funding for FY14 and FY15, combined with existing NAHASDA program balances, could assist over 1,900 Native Hawaiian families in the next two years.
Projects slated to move forward include:
affordable rental unit lots in Kona
infrastructure for single family residential lots in East Kapolei
home accessibility renovations for disabled and elderly residents in Kalamaula/Hoolehua, Keaukaha/Panaewa, Nanakuli/Waianae, and Waimanalo/Papakolea
energy retrofits to improve energy efficiency and reduce homeowners' expenses
home repair for substandard units
financial counseling, case management, mortgage loan delinquency, and homelessness services
Native Hawaiian Housing Loan Guarantee Program -- Provides Access to Credit for Native Hawaiians Applying for Home Mortgages - $100,000 (to support over $16.1 million in loans)
The bill provides $100,000 for the Native Hawaiian Housing Loan Guarantee Fund (NHHLG) to support a loan level of $16,130,000 which is equal to the loan levels provided in FY14. The NHHLG program supports access to credit so Native Hawaiians can obtain a mortgage with a market rate of interest to purchase, rehabilitate, or build a single family home on Hawaiian Home Lands. The program allows flexibility for Native Hawaiians to use private financing to cover construction or acquisition costs, while federal dollars are used only to guarantee payment in the event of a default. The high levels of homelessness, overcrowding, and inadequate housing, combined with the lack of access to credit, compounds the need and value of this loan guarantee option for Native Hawaiian families.
Essential Air Service Program -- Support for Kalaupapa and Kamuela - $155 million
The Essential Air Service Program (EAS) ensures access to air transportation for small and rural communities. The U.S. Department of Transportation provides EAS subsidies of more than $900,000 annually for service to and from Kalaupapa and more than $400,000 annually for service to and from Kamuela. Without this federal assistance, these communities would be without direct air access to medical care and other important services. Senator Schatz is a member of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation, which authorizes the Essential Air Service Program.
Funding for the Maui Bus, TheBus, TheHandi-Van, Hele-On Bus, The Kauai Bus -- FTA Formula Grants - $8.6 billion
FTA Formula Grant funds maintain and support Hawai"i's public transit systems, including the Maui Bus, TheBus, Kauai Bus, Hele-On Bus, and TheHandi-Van fleets. The bill includes $8.6 billion for FTA formula grants. Without this funding source, Hawai"i's public transit systems would be unable to keep up with the increasing demand for bus service or address the many fiscal and operational challenges that accompany growth. Many riders rely on these services for their daily transportation and often cannot afford other options.
Support for TIGER Transportation Grants - $550 million
The bill funds the National Infrastructure Investments (TIGER) program at $550 million. This program delivers funding to support transportation infrastructure projects. Pending applications that Senator Schatz has supported include funding requests for BikeShare infrastructure for Honolulu, maintenance facilities for Maui Economic Opportunity's bus service for the elderly and persons with special needs, and additional improvements to the Daniel K. Inouye Highway on Hawai"i Island. Hawai"i has received two grants from this program in the past including the Pier 29 container yard reconstruction and improvements to the Daniel K. Inouye Highway.