Stanley Chang wants to build a lot more public housing, and he wants everyone in Honolulu to be able to live in it— no matter how much money you have.

The senator from East Honolulu presented his new plan for solving the city’s affordable housing crisis at a conference at the state Capitol Friday.

Chang’s idea is inspired by housing developments in Singapore, where more than 80 percent of the population lives in public housing.

A slide from Sen. Chang’s presentation shows the type of development he thinks could help solve the city’s housing crisis.

The Democrat from Kaimuki wants to build dense high-rises on state land and sell units through 99-year leaseholds to Hawaii families at about $300,000 each.

The median condo price in Honolulu last month was $390,000, and the median price of a single-family home was $800,000, according to the Honolulu Board of Realtors.

Under Chang’s plan, only Hawaii residents who don’t own any other property would be able to buy the homes and they would have to be owner-occupants, not investors. But the units wouldn’t be restricted to first-time homebuyers, and would be open to anyone regardless of income.

He imagines the buildings would be mixed income and located near planned rail stations, with swanky amenities like infinity pools.

“These are going to be homes, they’re not just going to be empty boxes,” Chang says.

Chang believes that the proposal is revenue-neutral — the state might float bonds to get the projects going but would recoup funding through home sales.

It’s unlikely such a massive rethinking of strategies for creating more affordable housing will pass the Legislature any time soon.  For one thing, lawmakers last session mostly focused on creating rental housing.

But Chang, who considers himself a progressive Democrat, believes that his new idea is the most politically palatable answer to the housing crisis in Hawaii, where many people don’t want more high-priced development and demand far exceeds supply.

Senator Stanley Chang higher education hearing.

Senator Stanley Chang was impressed by Singapore, where more than 80 percent of residents live in publicly constructed housing, during a recent visit there.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The idea was welcome to some housing advocates who are frustrated by the worsening housing crisis.

Rev. Bob Nakata, a longtime affordable housing advocate, says he’s not sure how the financing would work for Chang’s proposal but likes how the senator is finding common ground among different stakeholders.

“It’s a thing that may hold us together,” Nakata said.

Environmental advocate Anthony Aalto, former construction industry lobbyist Tyler Dos Santos-Tam and developer Christine Camp all praised the idea for its boldness.

Aalto says it has been disappointing that the multi-billion dollar rail project hasn’t yet led to large scale affordable housing developments.

“We should build a vertical Hoopili at Aloha Stadium,” he said, referring to Hoopili, a highly criticized 12,000-unit housing project on prime farmland in Ewa Beach.  “As progressives we should try to encourage as much housing in the right kind of place as possible.”

Chang intends to introduce the bill next session. Click here for all the details.

This story is part of an ongoing series, “Living Hawaii,” that examines our high cost of living and what it will take to bring down “the price of paradise.” Submit your suggestions for what cost-of-living stories we should cover, or join the conversation at our Cost of Living Facebook page. 

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