Housing action needed now against worsening crisis

Housing is too expensive in Hawaii — and we all know it.

We all hear stories of families who have been saving for years but still can’t afford to buy a home of their own.

Even with two people working full time, demand for houses is just too high and prices always seem out of reach, no matter how much we save.

We all know people who have lived in Hawaii for decades — or were born and raised here — but who have given up trying to make it work financially.

With broken hearts, they have decided to move to the mainland so they can afford to buy a house, send their kids to college, and maybe save a little for retirement.

They have been “priced out of paradise.”

Hawaii’s housing crisis has now reached a state of emergency, with fewer and fewer families able to afford to buy or rent a home here.

Our housing costs are the highest in the nation, with prices at 2.7 times the national average — and 3.4 times the national average on Oahu, where the median price of a single-family home is now $1.1 million.

It now takes $252,000 in annual income to afford a new median priced home in our state — putting home ownership out of reach for virtually all essential workers like teachers, nurses and firefighters.

Fewer than 1 in 3 households can afford a single-family home, fewer than 1 in 2 can afford a condominium, and 1 in 2 people cite housing costs as reason for leaving Hawaii.

Native Hawaiians are increasingly leaving our islands — with more now living on the mainland than in Hawaii — and they are twice as likely to be homeless if they stay, now making up 40% of our state’s homeless population.

We have the highest cost of living in the nation with the least affordable housing market, the highest median home prices, and the highest level of regulations.

According to a recent study, we need approximately 10,000 new homes per year to catch up with our housing deficit and start meeting demand, but only 4,000 new units on average are currently being built each year, and it takes three times longer in Hawaii to obtain building permits than the national average.

The result is that our housing regulations add $233,000 to $325,000 to the cost of buying a home in Hawaii.

This approach to housing in our state isn’t working, and we can’t continue like this.

We must change the way we do housing in Hawaii.

That’s why this past week I issued an Emergency Proclamation Relating to Housing, addressing our critical housing shortage by promoting the speedy and safe construction of public, low-income, affordable, workforce, and market-rate for-sale and rental units for Hawaii residents.

By suspending onerous regulations and streamlining approvals, we will shorten development timelines and increase the supply of units, meeting our demand and helping make housing more affordable.

Under the emergency proclamation, we will:

>> Appoint a lead housing officer to convene stakeholders to accelerate permitting processes, eliminate duplication, explore innovative approaches to increase the development of housing, share best practices, create working groups, prioritize housing projects, review accountability, encourage housing development and encourage transit-oriented development.

>> Create the Build Beyond Barriers Working Group comprised of city, county and state agencies to review and approve housing plans, permits and applications, and to certify projects.

>> Direct state agencies to prioritize housing reviews, plans, approvals and permit processing.

>> Call on state and county agencies to collaborate to address the housing crisis, and engage in discussions around mutual aid agreements and other assistance.

>> Create alternative processes for state historic preservation review and environmental reviews.

>> Suspend the State Procurement Code in coordination with the State Procurement Office.

>> Streamline processes for housing undertaken by the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., Department of Hawaiian Homelands, Hawaii Public Housing Authority, and Hawaii Community Development Authority.

>> Allow counties to approve District Boundary Amendments up to 100 acres.

>> Allow third-party reviewers to be hired at state and county agencies.

>> Allow multifamily residential development in business districts.

>> And, provide the flexibility to transfer resources as needed for the purposes of this proclamation.

The emergency proclamation will be in effect for 12 months, can be amended and changed, and must be re-signed by the governor every 60 days.

We will maintain our commitment to protecting Hawaii’s precious natural and cultural resources — but our housing crisis has become an emergency that requires decisive action, and this proclamation is the first step.

We can no longer stand by and do nothing while nurses, teachers and firefighters can’t afford to live in our state, Native Hawaiian families are being priced out of their homeland, and our next generation can no longer dream of living in the beautiful islands where they grew up.