Affordable Housing

Houses for Hawaii 

There are several catchphrases for housing for our community; “Affordable, Attainable, or Workforce.” Regardless of the term, being able to supply the need is what is essential. By some estimates, our county has a demand for 25,000 units by 2025, a staggering number. (rough numbers that is 5000 units a year for the next five years. Currently, we are building 3 to 400 units a year. ) We have the land, builders, and people who want and need housing, so what is the problem?

  • To have affordable housing, we must have inventory.
  • To have an inventory, we must build it.
  • To build it, we must have good public policy combined with the political will and a committed builder.
  • The building is where the problems strike.

In District 9, we currently have at least six projects in various stages, seeking approval. The most substantial obstruction to building affordable housing is the infrastructure cost (services like water and electricity and roads/streets) and land.

There are many definitions of affordable (many are not that affordable in my mind); the one that I am using is the purchase price of $300,000 for a home; maybe a $210,000 home on a $90,000 piece of land. I term this “affordable” because this what a young couple I know, both working, say they can afford the mortgage payment. The obvious question is, who can find something like this? It comes down to that land and infrastructure costs.

In some projects, the infrastructure and land cost is as much as the construction cost of the home. Using this line of thinking, if we had a $210,000 home on a $190,000 piece of land, the total cost would be $400,000 as opposed to my first example of $300,000. Somewhere in here is the tipping point, becoming unattainable.

We have identified at least part of the problem, what is the solution? Listening to planning during the listening sessions for the update on our general plan, they stated we had enough zoning to attend to all our housing needs for at least the next 50+ years. I immediately questioned that statement asking if it was affordable? They acknowledged that it probably would not be again because of the cost of the land. To answer this dilemma is having to think outside the box, go to an area with less costly property. Logical and straightforward enough, but housing must be allowed (rezoned) to be built on affordable land. Building on affordable land typically requires rezoning open land to enable this, which is more straightforward if the community provides firm support.

Under a state law referred to as 201H, we can get this done for some accommodations for building infrastructure. (The accommodations allowed under the 201H process is strictly for “affordable“ housing projects, and the accommodations do not impact health and human safety at any measure. Requirements such as “complete streets,” sidewalk, etc. are not typically required.) Our state legislature recognized the dire need for affordable housing and approved 201H. As a county, we must embrace this opportunity and move forward with these programs.

When I was born in this county, we had 1/3 of the population that we do today. By the sheer fact that we all are here, we all support development, but I believe we all genuinely mean responsible development. It is trendy to talk about building affordable housing, but we must commit to supporting it as a community. It is more than just a house. It is an opportunity for young people to own their own home. For this to work, we must also have an economy that gives our next-generation community and economic opportunity; they also must have jobs. We are losing most of our youth to the mainland as we have become stagnant in Developing housing and a chance to stay home where their hearts are. This one is on us; the current residents of Hawaii County. We must be supportive of housing going forward. Our planning department must also recognize that they do not have overarching jurisdiction of the 201H process. We have the metrics that will allow us to move forward. We even have builders that are willing to go through the arduous task of seeking approval. We need leaders committed to housing and growing the economy. Everyone must be supportive of well thought out and crafted plans if we genuinely want houses for Hawaii and a better future for the next generation.

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