We need to build our way to the future: 60,000+ new homes for local families.

By Kirk Caldwell, as published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 3-20-22

When I talk story with people, it breaks my heart to hear how they can’t find a home they can afford to rent or purchase, and that they’ve lost hope in the future. But these are more than just anecdotes. According to the latest report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Hawai‘i has the highest “Housing Wage” – housing costs vs. wage earnings – in our country. To change that, we must act aggressively.

For the last two decades, we’ve been building about 6,000 new homes a year. But we need to be building at twice that pace for five or more years to meet Hawai‘i’s true housing needs. And the state itself has the single largest role to play to increase to that level. It’s more than an opportunity, it’s a responsibility.

Here are five core strategies to close the housing gap for Hawai‘i’s working families.

1 – Develop homes on state-owned lands on every island

As the largest landowner in Hawai‘i, the state should provide property to developers for free, as well as all the infrastructure needed for housing. Developers, in turn, would be required to build homes available to local residents for $400,000 or less.

Such state lands could be former sugar cane or pineapple fields already designated within urban settings, property located along the rail transit route, or many other parcels appropriate for home development. I also fully support efforts in the legislature to utilize unused Department of Education property to create affordable housing for teachers and the community.

2 – Invest long-term in Department of Hawaiian Home Lands

DHHL has a waiting list of 28,000 applicants for homes. It is exciting news that the Legislature hopes to allocate $600 million to address these housing needs, but even that large allocation would only result in the development of 4,000 homes.

We must dedicate $150+ million every single year for over a decade to help DHHL close the gap and fulfill our promises to native Hawaiians.

3 – Government incentives to generate more rental housing

State and county governments need to provide incentives, tax credits and easing of building restrictions to generate more rental housing. Over 40% of our residents are renters, and they need more and better affordable options.

4 – Allow housing in all zoning categories

We need to adjust restrictions to allow appropriate housing in all zoning categories (except heavy industrial). This would allow farmers to build homes for themselves and their workers on their ag properties, business owners to add loft apartments over their shops, or underused commercial properties be utilized to build apartments. This small-scale development model would take advantage of existing infrastructure and also decentralize impacts of housing growth.

5 – Ease over-regulation of private homebuilders

It’s estimated that government over-regulation and resulting delays add 20% or more to the cost of new homes. We need to revamp outdated codes and streamline processes to better support the private sector to get more homes built more quickly.

We need to build our way to the future, adding more than 60,000 new homes, in every housing category, where local residents need them. We have to cut red tape and overcome the usual NIMBY barriers to create new homes our people can afford, for today and tomorrow.