Earlier this month Honolulu officials gave keys to three qualified families to move into permanent modular housing units in Waianae.

The project, called Kauhale Kamaile, features 16 units for homeless or formerly homeless families and individuals who earn 50 percent of the area media income. Rent for a one-bedroom unit is $981, while a two-bedroom unit goes for $1,177.

The units aren’t fancy, but they include the basics for shelter: a bathroom, a kitchen, a bed, walls and a roof.

We applaud the city for this important step.

Similar approaches to affordable housing include the prefabricated homes at Kahauiki Village along Nimitz Highway, and shipping containers turned into apartments in Kailua-Kona known as Hale Kikaha.

The Kauhale Kamaile modular permanent housing project on Farrington Highway.

Caldwell Administration

But the city, the other counties and the state, with the help of nonprofits and businesses, should think even more broadly when it comes to this type of housing.

Instead of just approving manufactured homes via emergency declaration for limited use in homeless housing projects, the state and counties should move to make it easy for any potential homeowner to ship over a mobile home and put it on a private lot or even in a mobile home park like those common all over the mainland.

The cost of homeownership is just too high here to allow archaic regulations, NIMBY-ism and politics to prevent what could and should be a viable solution for middle-class homeownership. 

There are many ways to describe what is essentially the same thing but also a cheap and decent place to call home: mobile homes, trailers, doublewides, manufactured homes or prefabs.

Some people think immediately of trailer parks with images of rundown structures and unsavory residents. Others have argued that mobile homes have no place in an island state with its potential for hurricanes.

But high-quality, beautifully laid-out and landscaped mobile home parks have existed for decades all over the United States, including areas of the country with extreme weather. And there’s no good reason that can’t be the case here.

The interior of a Kauhale Kamaile unit.

Caldwell Administration

Instead of aggressively pursuing mobile home options, here is our current housing reality:

  • The city is trying to control the proliferation of so-called monster homes, as owners wildly expand their existing homes.
  • Developers seek to skirt requirements to include affordable units as part of their planned high-rises.
  • We are considering the establishment of ohana zones, safe zones and tent cities which, while helpful, are really temporary shelters by other names.
  • There is a long and expensive backlog for repair and maintenance of existing public-housing facilities.
  • A recent study shows that a quarter of homes sold in Hawaii during were bought by non-residents.
  • And the price tag of medium-priced home on Oahu is nearly $800,000.

This is untenable.

We are not advocating that Winnebagos be allowed to roam freely on our limited island home. We recognize mobile homes will require zoning variances and utility infrastructure as well as shifts in attitude. Greed will continue to dominate discourse.

But doesn’t a manufactured home listing for perhaps one-tenth the cost of an average home here sound entirely reasonable?

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