A resolution allowing property owners to rent out ohana units — currently reserved for family members — to the general public was moved forward Thursday by the Honolulu Zoning and Planning Committee.
But even if it continues to receive the support of city officials, it could be a year before the proposal becomes law.
The measure is supported by advocates of creating more affordable housing, including Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice and Faith Action for Community Equity, but critics say there aren’t enough checks and balances in the resolution to ensure it doesn’t enable the proliferation of illegal vacation rentals.
Resolution 14-200, introduced by Councilman Ron Menor, is designed to quickly increase the number of affordable rental units on Oahu. The housing units, referred to as “accessory dwelling units,” tend to rent for below-market rates, housing experts say.
“We have a serious affordable housing and homeless crisis on our island and across our state,” said Councilman Ikaika Anderson, chair of the Zoning and Planning Committee, after the hearing. “Allowing for accessory dwelling units would help to accommodate that issue by allowing more space for people to live.”
Concerns that the measure would encourage homeowners to illegally rent out the units as vacation rentals — subverting the goal of adding more stock to the rental market — are valid, said Anderson. However, the council likely won’t take up that issue for months, when a bill based on the resolution is submitted to the council for deliberation.
The resolution still has to go to the full council for a vote. If it passes, it will go to the city’s Department of Planning and Permitting which, after public hearings, would devise a bill based on the resolution and submit it to the council for review. At that time, the council will likely look at ways to amend the bill to restrict homeowners’ ability to rent out the units as vacation rentals, said Anderson.
The bill would have to go through three readings of the City Council and be signed by the mayor to become law. The entire process could take a year.
Currently, Oahu is the only island that prohibits renting out additional dwelling units to the public — Maui, Kauai and the Big Island impose no such restrictions. However, city officials say that many homeowners on Oahu rent out the ohana units anyway, depriving the city of tax revenue.
More than half of all households in Hawaii spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing and about 80 percent of very low-income residents are spending more than half of their income on housing, according to the resolution. Financial advisors and Realtors often recommend spending no more than 30 percent on rent.
Currently, the resolution only pertains to neighborhoods with ohana zoning. But Art Challacombe, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Permitting, said that the department wants to consider opening it up to all residential areas on Oahu.
The resolution is reigniting a long-standing debate in Hawaii over vacation rentals. Property owners advertise hundreds of illegal rentals online every year through web sites such as VRBO, Craigslist and Airbnb. Meanwhile, the DPP says it has limited means to enforce the prohibition on the rentals.
The department has said in the past that it has to physically catch violators and that advertising the units is not in itself illegal.
Anderson tried to address some of these issues in a bill he proposed several years ago, but it did not pass. The measure would have prohibited the advertising of illegal vacation rentals, imposed fines of $1,000 to $5,000 per day for rental violations and prohibited DPP from settling the fines for less.
Kailua resident Ursula Rutherford, who testified against the resolution on Thursday, said that she didn’t think such a measure should pass until the city demonstrates “it can and will” enforce prohibitions against vacation rentals.