Hawaii’s housing crisis has reached a state of emergency.
It’s an issue that impacts us all in some way, and touches almost every other major challenge we face as a state.
No matter where I go across our islands, people tell me how our lack of affordable housing affects them, their families, and their communities.
I see the worry on people’s faces when they talk about housing, whether it’s a mother afraid her son will have to move to the mainland to find opportunity, or a teacher who can’t afford to stay in Hawaii and keep doing the job she loves.
The average cost of a single-family home now exceeds $1 million in Hawaii, threatening to divide us permanently into two classes: those who can afford to own a home and those who can’t.
Young people can’t afford to live on their own. Seeking a lower cost of living, many choose to leave the island where they grew up, and thousands more move to the mainland for good.
Essential workers including nurses and teachers either give up their struggle to find affordable housing and leave our state, or turn down opportunities to work in Hawaii in the first place.
Many working people in Hawaii simply can’t afford a place to live, lack family support, and end up living in their car, in a tent, or on the street.
Our housing crisis is costing us dearly, as we lose talented local people to the lower cost of living on the mainland, and we price ourselves out of the market to attract skilled workers.
It also affects our state’s ability to deal with urgent issues like homelessness, the cost of living, education, access to healthcare, workforce shortages, Native Hawaiian concerns, economic inequality, and more.
High housing costs put the greatest burden on low income families, often representing over 50% of their cost of living, while economic studies show that housing costs should not exceed 30% of a family’s income.
Hawaii suffers a chronic shortage of 1,200 teachers each year as we struggle to retain qualified and experienced educators, mainly due to our high cost of living and unaffordable housing.
People working in the hospitality and tourism industry often drive two hours or more every day to get to work and back, because they can’t find affordable housing closer to their jobs.
In 1920, the Department of Hawaiian Homelands was created to deliver land to Native Hawaiians for homesteading. More than a century later, DHHL has more than 28,000 Native Hawaiians on its rolls while holding over 200,000 acres of unused land.
Today, Native Hawaiians are twice as likely to become homeless in Hawaii, a disparity that is both unjust and cruelly ironic.
Tens of thousands of illegal vacation rentals and empty investor units flood our state, reducing the supply of affordable housing and inflating prices. Luxury developments consume land and infrastructure resources, and military housing allowances further impact supply.
We have reached a point of crisis, with a housing deficit that requires at least 50,000 new units for low and middle income families right now just to meet current demand and maintain our workforce.
We must take action now and commit to a new era of building homes for the middle class, making it our top priority — Hawaii’s version of a moon shot.
After consulting with experts and stakeholders from across the state, I have put together a 10-point emergency plan to address our housing crisis which, if I am elected governor, will start on day one of my administration:
Emergency Housing Plan for Hawaii
- Immediately issue an executive order to all state and county housing agencies to speed up construction of affordable housing by eliminating red tape, streamlining processes and approvals, and coordinating efforts to address the crisis.
- Make housing for Hawaii residents our top priority by aggressively enforcing existing laws to shut down the 25,000 illegal vacation rentals across the state, taxing the 35,000 vacant investor units, and limiting permits and increasing taxes on new luxury developments by out of state investors.
- Create a “Path to Home Ownership” for first-time home buyers and essential workers with a new state-subsidized loan program, including financial education and assistance to help navigate the home buying process.
- Create an Office of Emergency Housing to serve as a “one stop shop” to eliminate bureaucratic red tape and provide faster services and approvals.
- Use vacant state lands to build affordable homes and rentals with federal, state, and private partnerships.
- Continue to increase the rental housing revolving fund, increase the low income housing tax credit, and create new deductions and incentives for long term rentals to low and middle income families.
- Direct the Department of Hawaiian Homelands to deliver land immediately to Native Hawaiian beneficiaries for homesteading, and to work with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to build housing for Native Hawaiians.
- Reduce homelessness by building kauhale housing villages and funding new programs, services, and incentives such as vouchers to house the homeless.
- Work with the counties to lower the costs of building affordable housing by addressing water, sewer, park, and other fees as well as zoning and exaction requirements, all while maintaining environmental protections.
- Work with Hawaii’s Congressional delegation to increase federal housing voucher funding, homeless funding, infrastructure funding, and a bond cap increase to build housing.
We must also reach out to our construction industry, labor unions, the U.S. military, and every other major employer and stakeholder in Hawaii to bring to bear their expertise, manpower, and capital to aid in this effort.
We will partner with developers across the state to build tens of thousands of new units of affordable housing, which will in turn create new jobs, build our communities, and grow our economy.
Our housing crisis will likely continue to be the most challenging issue we face in the coming years.
It will be crucially important that our next governor comes into office with the trust, credibility, and the strongest possible plan to take on this challenge.