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The Hawaii Affordable Housing Problem

By: T. Jeffersonian 

Depending upon who you talk to, Hawaii needs anywhere between 10,000 to 50,000 houses.  

The state already has houses and apartments to live in or that Hawaii lacks the building capacity to produce new houses.  Hawaii’s problem is that the houses in existence or being built are not affordable.  Because the houses are not affordable, Hawaiian families are forced to live in smaller houses that do not adequately suit the needs associated with their family sizes or their proximities to work, health care, and grocery stores. The median house price in Hawaii is around $675,000.  New homes currently being built go for $700,000 to $800,000 which is of course outside the median.  The new houses that are outside the median are already being sold, while the low-income houses in the same developments are coming soon. Some of the new houses are being sold to non-residents.  Non-residents buy 15 percent of the homes on Oahu; 37.5 percent on Maui, and 40 percent respectively on Hawaii and Kauai.  Non-residents on average pay more than 50 percent more than do Hawaiians.  Hawaiians are simply being outbid.   The Department of Hawaiian Homes Lands was intended to ensure that indigenous Hawaiians have homes; however, the Department is usually woefully underfunded.  Finally, affordable housing projects are habitually rejected by the communities that can accept them.  Residents perceive that the affordable housing projects will reduce the values of their properties, change the character of their neighborhoods, and increase traffic.  What can political leaders do to solve the affordable housing shortage in Hawaii? 

Some say that we are not going to build our way out of this mess and that building more houses does not solve all affordable housing ills.  Maybe not, but building more affordable houses cures most of the ills. It is more cost effective to build a new affordable house than it is to turn an expensive house into an affordable one.    Even houses that are not affordable should still be built because those buyers will be taxed and that revenue can used to build affordable houses. 

Affordable housing projects that have not started for whatever reasons or projects that are being rejected because an area does not want to accept them must be started or pushed through.   There are also projects that been awarded for affordable housing, but now the recipients want to build solar farms instead.  These projects must also be resumed as awarded.   

The state must also embrace a dual build up and build out strategy.  This dual affordable housing strategy takes advantage of still available space in the urban areas and expands into the cheaper areas surrounding the towns and cities.  Allegedly only five percent of Hawaii is used for housing.  If this is true, there is no shortage of land on which to build affordable houses.  A one to two percent increase in housing land usage together with a build up strategy can potentially alleviate the affordable housing shortage sooner. 

Another way to address the affordable housing shortage quicker is to increase building capacity.  Regulation is one option to increase capacity, while partnering with non-profit presents another.  Quickly building enough affordable housing cannot be solely a for-profit business solution but must also involve Habitat for Humanity, Mutual Housing Association for Hawaii, and the Hawaii Community Development Board.  Involving the non-profits will increase capacity and can keep housing affordable. 

Keeping the houses affordable must also start when the houses are designed.  The houses must endure and they must be energy efficient if not entirely energy independent.  The houses should be built with photovoltaic systems and recycling systems the reduce and if not entirely remove utility costs.   

Costs may also be reduced by tying affordable housing resident selection processes with job placement processes.  In this manner, a selected resident is also placed in a job that allows them to pay their associated costs of living while serving the state or community.   

There is an affordable housing shortage in Hawaii.  The political party that manages to solve the affordable housing problem without burdening the state with more costs and without angering voters is going to govern Hawaii.   

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