It always breaks my heart a little when I get an invitation to a going-away party for a friend that is moving to Las Vegas because they can no longer afford to live here. Like many other Hawaii residents, Hawaii is home for me. Considering the high number of my peers that are considering leaving Hawaii due to the high cost of living, I will address this issue head on.
The housing shortage in Hawaii gets worse every year. A 2015 Department of Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) study revealed that we need 65,000 housing units by the year 2025 just to keep up with new demand, and that is on top of our previous housing shortage. As a young working professional it has become impossible for myself and many like myself to own a house.
Here is my action plan to end Hawaii’s housing shortage, to assure that every Hawaii resident can afford a home here:
Support the ALOHA Homes proposal
Create more affordable rentals
Expand on Section 8 vouchers and get people off the waitlist
Stop the proliferation of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods
Establish the Office of Renovations & Maintenance in the Hawaii Public Housing Authority
In 2019, Senator Stanley Chang introduced a proposal called ALOHA (Affordable, Locally Owned Homes for All) Homes. It would build condos near the rail stations and sell 99 year leases to local buyers. To purchase you would need to meet three requirements:
Be an owner occupant
Own no other real property
Be a Hawaii resident
Other countries have already implemented this change to fix their housing shortages, and they never looked back. Take Singapore, for example, an island state with limited land that faced an existential housing crisis in the 1960s. The government used the 99 year lease model to build enough housing to meet demand, and today 82 percent of the population lives in attractive, well maintained public housing that costs only $180,000 for a new, three bedroom, two bath condo.
As ALOHA Homes is a long-term solution to our housing shortage, it is important for us to create more affordable rentals, quickly. At the moment, we face a homeless crisis that is in desperate need of more affordable rental units.
The State should inventory vacant buildings around the island and purchase them to develop affordable housing. The State should engage the surrounding communities with utmost transparency.
To ensure our residents have a place to call home, we need to engage the private sector. This means creating a Landlord Liaison within the Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA) to work with landlords to open up rental units for Section 8 housing voucher recipients. Having worked with HPHA and Senator Chang, it is important that we have a liaison to work with landlords and tenants. I’m proud to have played a role in the passing SB 9 in 2019 that creates an insurance program that encourages landlords to accept more Section 8 vouchers.
As these partnerships develop, and more people successfully use Section 8 vouchers to achieve housing, we would be able to open up the Section 8 waitlist to allow more recipients who are struggling to get in. Creating a cycle where Section 8 recipients can graduate to private sector housing will help more needy families who need it. Expanding Section 8 vouchers would help many individuals achieve housing.
Our housing shortage is also exacerbated by illegal vacation rentals. I believe that we need to stop the proliferation of vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods. Many vacation rentals change the landscape of neighborhoods, disrupting the area at different hours while making housing out of reach for potential renters.
Finally, it is my priority to maintain our public housing units to meet high standards, which is why I would propose to establish the Office of Renovations & Maintenance in the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. Right now, public housing is in disrepair as we have neglected updating and maintaining our public housing inventory. When it is left unmaintained, it depreciates the value of the neighborhood. Maintaining our inventory allows the residents and neighbors to have pride in their neighborhood, and makes it safer and more community oriented.
My peers are not the only ones that are faced with the difficult decision to stay in Hawaii. Our kupuna are living on limited fixed incomes. Rather than enjoying their retirement, our kupuna are having to work past retirement age to make ends meet.
People often say that we are being priced out of paradise, but we are actually being priced out of our homes. Our young professionals are fighting for their place here, but as each and every day goes by, it has become harder and harder for them to stay. I vow to make housing a top priority because if one wants to leave Hawaii for a job on the mainland it should be on their own terms, not because of a system that is pushing them out.
Affordable housing is not just a solution to a problem for me. It is a way to keep our families together so that we thrive as a community, grow as a community and come together as a community.