Hawaii will never be affordable for working families and individuals, especially the working poor and homeless, unless we take a few bold steps.

Our politicians have not shown the leadership to do what is necessary to fix this crisis, and it just might be because we, the electorate, have not shown the political will for some necessary steps.

First, the facts.

Kaimuki homes neighborhood real estate honolulu
Will politicians ever show the leadership needed to address our affordable housing crisis? Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Many cities, states and counties throughout our country are implementing programs that address their critical need for affordable housing, from inclusionary housing programs that work to issuing a housing levy or bonds to acquiring land and fund developments to regulatory reform.

Inclusionary housing programs with regulatory reform combined with adequate funds will make the difference. A new source of funds is necessary because prior administrations never took the necessary step to insure a balanced housing stock was created. Instead, our elected officials in Hawaii would rather procrastinate and order another study to prolong the difficult political steps they need to take. Every study that has been done in the state says the same things, but nothing ever happens.

A housing levy (or bond) is a tax increase, and that’s what our elected officials do not have the courage to propose — or even whisper. They have a fear of the incumbent homeowner voter who will vote them out of office if anyone talks about a tax increase. These homeowners will not share in their good fortune to help others.

The good fortune we are talking about in Hawaii is housing appreciation and values. Just in Honolulu over the last 20 years, homeowners have seen a 7 percent annual appreciation of their homes or an average of $28,000 per year. Condominium home-owners have seen the same 7 percent appreciation per year or an average of $15,000 per year.

Between 2000 and 2016, the average homeowner has seen an appreciation of 10.5 percent or $31,000 per year, and the average condominium owner has had an increase of 15 percent or $18,700 per year.

Using the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s median income for a family of four over the last 20 years, appreciation has only been up 3 percent or $2,000 per year, and since 2000, 3 percent again but only $1,800 per year.

When using a price-income ratio on a national basis, Honolulu is the fourth-least affordable place anywhere, including places such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

What is obvious is that the price appreciation of homes is far outstripping income gains of the population. During the same time, fair-market rents have also been outstripping income gains.

Between 1996 and 2007, rents increased on an average of 5 percent per year for two-bedroom units and 6 percent per year for three- and four-bedroom units. Between 2000 and 2016, rent for a two-bedroom unit has increased 8.88 percent and over 10 percent for three- and four-bedroom units.

When using a price-income ratio on a national basis, Honolulu is the least affordable place in America, and on an international basis of English-speaking places, it is the fourth-least affordable, including places such as Hong Kong and Singapore.

When you consider the price of entitled land and regulations, it doesn’t appear reasonable to think that home prices are going to ever slow their appreciation, and economists feel that with the imbalance between home prices and rents, rents will increase faster.

There’s a direct correlation between the rapidly rising appreciation of homes, condominiums and all real estate to the cost-of-living. This creates inequality that a stalwart group of housing advocates and nonprofits have been fighting for years, to no avail.

There are families that have to make a decision each month whether to pay the rent or eat, and they have no funds for their children’s clothes or education, let alone health care. It’s everyone’s kuliana to help provide for our friends and neighbors, and if we do, maybe we can find the true meaning of aloha again.

The Way Forward

The voter homeowner only needs to agree to two of the four points I’ve discussed at this time to have an impact:

    • Allow a modest housing levy and
    • Repurpose some agricultural or conservation land for housing (this measure is also income-generating for a fund).

Giving up land is difficult from an environmental stand point, but a levy would have to be three to four times as large if you had to buy entitled land. A more robust inclusionary housing program and regulatory reform will take more time.

I estimate it will take $1 billion over the next five years to help alleviate our housing crisis and reduce the number of homeless throughout our state. This is one-eighth of what the rail system in Honolulu is costing which is supposed to provide affordable housing, which it will not without a housing levy fund to subsidize the units.

The housing levy can be selectively implemented. Not every homeowner (or property owner) needs to be affected. The criteria for the housing levy can be worked out, but we first must have someone who will propose and take the political risk to champion such a needed program.

A stable affordable home is the foundation 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. Home is where healthy families develop. Home is where strong values, responsibility and re- silience 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.

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