Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.
The following came from Renee Ing, the Green Party for lieutenant governor. There are three other candidates, including Democrat Josh Green, Republican Marissa Kerns and nonpartisan candidate Paul Robotti.
1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?
Insufficient affordable housing causing homelessness didn’t exist several decades ago when Oahu had rent control.
In the 1950s and 60s, rents were one week’s pay, about 100/month/room. Rent control was discontinued in the 1960s — housing costs climbed steeply — tripling in the 70s, again in the 80s, etc. Average rent today is $1,400/month/studio. In the 1980s, Reagan cut the housing funding — homelessness exploded.
$30 million can mitigate the devastating effects of homelessness to set up ohana zones. Nonprofits holding a “master lease” (such as U.S. Vets has), with strong leadership, can create a safe community on state land (such as at Puuhonua o Waianae).
Imagine a parcel of state land with an ohana zone at one end. At the other end, low-cost housing is built. When the affordable units are completed, the temporary ohana housing is dismantled.
Shipping containers and all-steel modular housing are cheap, quick to build, sturdy, easily stacked thus able to house more people.
Well-built apartments, stacked into walk-ups, could transition into low-cost housing on state land.
2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as governor do specifically?
Leasing unused state land to build affordable housing and forever keeping it leased by the state, so that the state can ensure it stays affordable forever.
Cost of the land is generally 50 percent to 75 percent of the total cost of the house. Only housing on government-owned land could take 50 percent to 75 percent of the housing cost off the top, to make affordability feasible, and a sufficient dent in the affordable shortfall.
Building co-op apartments would further make affordability possible. Since co-ops must be sold for the agreed upon price (closer to what it was bought for), co-ops don’t engage in the steep price raises that other housing does. “Limited equity housing co-ops” in state law encourages affordability even further.
Building in-town, where most of the jobs and population are, low-to-mid-rise apartment co-ops, with commercial space on the bottom floor, affordable apartments on top.
The commercial space below can generate regular income for the co-op that can be saved in reserve for future, necessary maintenance — painting, spalling, plumbing, etc.
The governor should use his bully pulpit to push to wisely spend the millions appropriated by the 2018 Legislature for the Rental Housing Trust Fund to jump-start this effort.
3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?
We oppose holding another con con now.
The last con con was constructive because it was held at a time when people were engaged in the community and advocating for many good issues.
It was the time of the Civil Rights Movement, Hawaiian sovereignty, zero population growth, the women’s movement, etc.
But today, we live in the age of Trump and corporate domination where Wall Street owns Washington D.C. We live in a dangerous time when corporate lobbyists write bills for politicians to pass which are aimed at enhancing their corporate bottom line and making the ordinary citizen pay for it. When Big Money funds movements to harm and do away with many protections to our environment, the social safety net, our democracy, etc., it would be dangerous to have a con con in this environment. It would open up all of our protections to attack and manipulation by Big Money working to turn them around for Big Profits. It would undo the progress we’ve made toward becoming a better society that we fought for and accomplished since the New Deal. We shouldn’t give them the opportunity to do worse.
4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?
Yes, we support initiative at the state level.
Initiative — allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot — is direct democracy.
When done by ordinary citizens who are in agreement that they want to see something done/happen, it’s a good thing when they volunteer to gather petitions to rally the community to a cause.
The question is how to protect the process from being taken over by corporate persons for their own interests.
It should be illegal for corporate money to be able to “buy” the process by paying people to gather petitions. And if its found out that corporate money was engaged in such activity, all of the petitions gathered by paid petitioners should be disqualified. Easier said than done — and who’s to say who got what signature?
5. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?
Public records should be available to the public in a timely fashion. Zeroxing fees should not be excessive.
If you are zeroxing a lot, it can get pricy. Perhaps there could be/should be a sliding scale (taking into account how much each piece of paper costs, plus associated costs).
A reasonable schedule might be:
• 5 cents each page for the first pages 1 to 10 (per day)
• 10 cents each page for the next 11 to 20 (per day)
• 15 cents each page for all other pages 21 and over (per day)
Some require that the public fill out a form to request zerox copies. We could have a policy that public records that can be given to the public must be released within a certain time: one day?
If the records require that staff must do a lot of research to find them, for instance because they are very old, in the distant past, it seems reasonable that they charge a “labor” fee for the time it takes for difficult records that need to be searched for to be found.
And the form filled out would have the date of request, and date supplied.
6. Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry, and what do you propose to do about it?
Illegal vacation rentals degrade our communities and our public areas. Some people are profiting at the expense of everyone else. They’re working on a solution, which apparently has been successful — if you have the resources to perform the job.
Each vacation rental, B&B, etc., must have its “license” number clearly shown on any kind of advertisement for that rental — whether it’s print or on-line. I’d include it even if someone gave them a plug in an article or on TV. It would be a number shown on their taxes to prevent doing business and evading taxes.
If that license number is not shown, the owner incurs a fine for tax evasion. Personally, given the extremely negative effect this problem is having, once the owner’s caught, I’d fine them daily for non-compliance until they got their license.
Because government was downsized, it can’t perform the regulatory tasks we need it for. For this system to work, the proper agencies must get the proper numbers of staffing to perform the task/follow through with legal action.
“Downsizing government” made this problem difficult to handle and needs to be reversed so governments can do their job effectively.
7. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?
No, Hawaii doesn’t seem to do anything to manage its tourism. All it seems to have done is do everything to grow the industry, grow the numbers of visitors, the numbers of hotel reservations. I’ve never noticed any vision concerning the quality of tourism, guidance, management or mitigation of impacts on the local community.
A product of this thinking is the Hawaii Convention Center. Build it and they will come … in greater and greater numbers.
Some have introduced different types of tourism — e.g. eco-tourism — but it seems to come from individuals rather than any concerted policy to create a long lasting, sustainable, quality industry.
At one time when I was young, it seemed that there was a policy that commercial activities were not allowed on public lands. Restrictions on private commercial use of public areas (e.g. not allowing private, guided hiking tours on government land) and restrictions on the numbers allowed (e.g. at Hanauma Bay) might help begin to get things under control. This would require appropriate numbers of staffing to monitor needed restrictions.
Has the state studied how others create quality tourism? Since it’s regarded as one of our most important industries, perhaps they should.
8. Do you support amending the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public education system? How would you implement it if it passes?
Yes, support this constitutional amendment.
Since property taxes take into account the age of the owner and occupancy, record keeping of ownership of multiple units owned (one owner-occupied, the others investments) could be a way of tracking and taxing non-owner-occupied units.
Taxing could be on a sliding scale according to the assessed value of the non-owner-occupied property. The tax could be collected by adding on to their annual property tax—before being transferred to a fund dedicated to education.
Nonresident nonowner-occupied properties above a million should be taxed at a higher rate. Taxing luxury properties at a much higher rate seems fair since the negative impact of such land-banking skews our local housing market.
This has exacerbated our housing problems, and leaves many children homeless who are having difficulty in school because their homelessness makes their whole lives more difficult. This educational tax is very important since we see a brain drain of teachers leaving the state because it’s too difficult to live here on a teacher’s low salary.
9. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?
I don’t support using liquid natural gas — isn’t it still a carbon-based fuel? Why should we put an intermediate step when trying to switch to renewable solutions? It seems that would just slow down the transition to renewable energy and we are running out of time.
10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?
We need to quickly put policies in place to prohibit more development in areas that probably will be affected by rising oceans, ground water inundation, “king tides” and storms. Not doing so will predictably incur huge costs for the state and residents — as the volcano’s eruption on the Big Island because development was allowed in a zone known to be affected by past eruptions shows.
For the present development along the coast that is predicted to be inundated, mitigation actions should be required immediately. Policies needing to be written into law should be worked on immediately. I’m sure the many concerned experts in this topic would help. And there is someone at UH who specialized in mitigation measures.
Otherwise, governments will be picking up the tab of the negative effects of climate change and sea level rise — after the developers have made their profit and left town, leaving us to clean up the very expensive, debilitating mess we all are aware is coming.
The hyper-development of luxury apartments in an area predicted to be under water because of rising oceans should not have been allowed either. Because it was, we all will pay the piper.
11. The office of lieutenant governor is often viewed as irrelevant. What would you do to make it more productive?
The Green Party of Hawaii lieutenant governor will be a pro-active member of the “Green Team” in 2018, helping to do what needs to be done to solve our problems and to keep Hawaii Hawaii.
There’s so much work that needs to be done — doing all we must do means all hands need to be on deck. Not only in government, but also full involvement from the community in citizen action round tables.
A Green lieutenant governor can do as Hillary Clinton did in the 1990s — take an active role in helping to get universal health care for all Hawaii residents. After chairing the coalition that helped Ah Quon McElrath push through her legislation leading to the creation of the Hawaii Health Authority, it would be an honor to fulfill her dream of creating Medicare-for-all in Hawaii.
And watching the housing problem develop since the 1970s and seeing it become a horrendous housing crisis that harms so many people, has focused us on this issue for many decades. To be able to do something to create low-cost affordable housing for Hawaii’s people, and helping to end this crisis would be an incredibly exhilarating experience!
12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Food security: Hoopili is being built on the best agricultural land in the state. Hawaii’s constitution mandates prime ag land be kept in agriculture. We should use a little of the state’s $1 billion surplus –only $78 million — to buy back Hoopili land through eminent domain, saving the best ag land in Hawaii for diversified agriculture and food for Hawaii’s people.
Voter owned elections: Taking the corrupting influence of money out of our elections, allowing candidates and elected officials to listen to their constituents who want change for the better rather than the lobbyists. To make it possible for elected officials who want to do good for the community to be able to do so — rather than spend so much time “dialing for dollars” to run their campaign.
PK TO 3 (preschool to third grade): Creating PK-3 programs in the DOE. PK-3 has a track record of bringing kids in poverty environments functionally up to par with children in the general population by grade three. Measured by their math and reading scores — two skills upon which all later learning depends — is a proven outcome of the PK-3 program (e.g., in New Jersey’s ghettos).