No one really cares about homes that are affordable

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No one really cares about homes that are affordable


No one really cares about homes that are affordable
By Charles P. Wathen

An affordable home is the bedrock that families and individuals build their lives upon. Home is where stability, self-sufficiency, and economic security begin. Home is where success in education blossoms and healthy families develop. Home is where strong values, responsibility, and resilience are learned. Homes build strong communities. In Hawaii, we pay some of the highest home ownership and rent prices in the country. As a result, families and workers are suffering. They sacrifice healthcare, education, social health, transportation, insurance, and employment just to have a place to live. Our people can't afford everything, and their quality of life is suffering.

We believe that every person deserves the opportunity to own or rent a home they can afford. Local people leave Hawaii because they cannot afford a home here. Teachers, policemen, doctors, nurses, first responders, and service industry workers leave Hawaii because of their inability to purchase a home and raise their family in Hawaii. Our housing costs have, and continue, to create an exodus of these valuable workers. In the end, we will suffer from the shortage of a skilled workforce, and the devastating effects of losing our local children to mainland jobs and homelessness. We must change laws and policies that are causing the price of a homes to skyrocket.

Civil societies are governed by rules and regulations to ensure the health and safety of its people. These rules and regulations are usually laws, or policies. As children, our parents set certain rules for us: dinner, homework, family activities, and bedtime for example. As we grew older, these rules changed to accommodate our growth, and as we became adults we were responsible for setting our own rules. The same principle applies to the laws of society so that as growth and change occurs, laws and policies evolve to protect and provide for its people. However, over time, many laws and policies accumulate, overlap, and result in the unintended consequence of spiraling home costs. These laws need to be optimized by protecting those things that make Hawaii unique and special, while pruning the obsolete and ineffective provisions that make it impossible to produce and preserve homes that are affordable for all of us.

The Counties and State passed a series of laws over the last 30-40 years that has forced the cost of housing out of reach for the average resident. These laws regulate housing development in Hawaii. Individually, each law is well intentioned. But their cumulative effect makes Honolulu, and Hawaii, the most unaffordable place in the country.

Planning for Hawaii, and policy, should reflect its current landscape and economy. It is important that voters and residents contact our elected officials about bills that affect us! Participate in shaping the laws that keep you or your family from living in Hawaii, and owning your own home.

 To increase the supply of affordable housing, the state and counties can both provide and preserve affordable housing units.

Here is a list of some things our government should do and some don’t cost anything.

(1) Examine regulations that act as barriers to the permitting process in Hawaii; these barriers increase the cost of the unit, which ends up getting passed on to the buyer or renter. Between 2007 and 2009 Hawaii conducted a statewide comprehensive review of housing regulations and made recommendations to the legislature in their report, “Affordable Housing Regulatory Barriers Task Force.” A follow up report needs to be undertaking and legislation need to be passed to finish the work started by this first committee.

(2) Create new land use policies that include a housing element similar to that in California that

forces each community to do its fair share in providing affordable housing.  

(3) For the next five years, allocate 100% of the conveyance tax revenues to the affordable housing fund.

(4) Allow ohana units (deed restricted) in all residential and commercial zones and create funding for these units and below market rates or create tax credits.

 (5) Allow housing to be constructed off the grid, without requirements to hook up to public utilities, provided health and safety are addressed.

(6) Require the state pension fund to make a fair share allocation to acquire and finance affordable housing located in Hawaii, like is done in California. The money will be invested anyway, why not invest it locally, in a way that provides multiple benefits to its members?

(7) Incorporate inclusionary zoning and linkage fees with preservation requirements.

Current requirements need to be rewritten for both rentals and homeownership.

(8) Place a moratorium on condominium conversions to preserve current stock of affordable housing.

(9) Enact a crawl back provision for recipients of state subsidies for affordable housing who convert the housing to market rate units; fees and penalties can be used for future affordable housing.

(10) Add a rapid building permit process to Chapter 201(H) for affordable housing projects.

(11) Provide a housing impact analysis requirement for every bill that the legislature or county council passes. This provides some context for planning and foresight.

(12) Review and update the reserved and workforce housing requirements for Kakaako and Kalaeloa. They are a joke.

(13) Develop a state affordable housing development model that incorporates the business model of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, and the master planned development model of Kapolei.

(14) Develop a plan to address the aging in place needs of the baby boomers, including residential and health care.

(15) Develop a housing planning strategy that links transportation to housing needs. Monitor any land use policy’s that effect transit oriented development as a tool for affordable housing.

(16) Engage business and create Employer Assisted Housing partnerships.

(17) Build a Private affordable housing equity fund to preserve our rental housing stock of both private and subsidized units.

(18) Reach out to national organization for funding and work with all the federal offices that impact housing grants and financing.

(19) Create a state Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDO) to lead the charge in development more affordable units.

(20) Have HHFDC conduct research and analysis and become a more informed advocate.

(21) Require each elected official sign a pledge to provide affordable housing and not pass any legislation that impacts their development, funding or the market price of homes.

(22) Require HHFDC to modify its QAP to give priory to mixed income housing and TOD’s. (23) Each county review and update their affordable housing requirements based upon a detail analysis of what could be provide by the private market at the same time not killing the golden goose. A balance must be stuck however the state and counties are at a disadvantage because they have no idea what financially could be developed.

(24) Pass a housing levy to fund more housing (billions over the next five years).

(25) Acquire and develop land for housing and funding to subsidies affordable and workforce housing. Entitled land is one of the key to providing affordable and workforce housing.

(26) Develop a tax credit program for workforce housing.  

(27) Create and fund a none profit that watches over all legislation and agency’s that effect affordable housing and disseminates to the public what is going on or not. When we created Housing Hawaii and Hawaii Housing Alliance that’s what we tried to do but we got no support. We also needed a high profile champion as a spokes person but no one wanted to come forward.

28) Raise minimum wage comparable to Seattle adjusted for the cost of living.

29) Fund a one billion dollar affordable and workforce housing trust by using a tax levy.

As you can see, there is no shortage of solutions. The legislature must embrace one of the most difficult tasks to ever be confronted with: solve a crisis their own policies have unintentionally compounded. Affordable housing has been studied in Hawaii for decades and, thankfully, some great ideas have been discussed.

Forty years of the same things not working is long enough. The time for change is now. Use this time to Provide, Preserve, and Plan.