Housing And Rail Can’t Be Ignored In Aloha Stadium Plans - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Ricky Cassiday

Ricky Cassiday is a Hawaii real estate marketing consultant.

Canceling the proposed Aloha Stadium entertainment-district project was needed, both for its misconception and miscarriage, but also because it insufficiently addressed Oahu’s biggest needs: housing and rail.

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A lot of money was wasted to date. But a whole lot more will be saved later.

It’s a tremendous public investment, which we all take seriously. And that is why solving these two challenges simultaneously may bring the biggest return.

In hitting the restart button, we need to look at the playbook of other massive public works projects, ones that fixed a glaring public need.

One good place to look: New York’s system of parkways and parks, which revolutionized the way cities in the U.S. were designed and built.

Ultimately, the genius was linking parkways with parks, transportation and recreation, which transformed the lives of millions, freeing families long trapped from leaving that grimy city summer and winter on weekends. And it all resulted in a bigger bang for the buck.

The biography on the architect of that work, Robert Moses, won a Pulitzer Prize for literature. It showcased the immense difficulties in pushing ahead with public works construction — the politics, the cost, corruption, bureaucracy, regulation and NIMBY concerns. That book, “The Power Broker” (1974), describes how Moses overcame them, similar to the 1990 book “Land and Power in Hawaii.”

The way forward is to apply the lessons of New York to our city, where one in five families qualifies for public housing and another one in five struggles for shelter against market forces. Two-bedroom condo rents jumped 20% since 2014, from $2,166 to $2,598 — where there’s 20,000 public housing units and almost 70,000 households qualifying for them (at 60% Area Median Income).

Every solution points to doubling this housing supply, which requires public subsidies, and there is absolutely no way around that. Our tax dollars will get a much bigger return on investment when housing goes in next to the rail stations. More housing also creates ridership, meaning less subsidies tomorrow going to maintaining rail, as we know will be the case.

The irony is that both the housing and rail problems need tax dollars. What is the way forward here?

Breaking The Logjam

Over the past 30 years we have seen a huge body of regulation on housing, including market and affordable, that’s been the result of policy choices by the legislative side of the city and state. Many were good, but many that seemed like a good idea at the time didn’t pan out and instead added to the cost of supplying shelter.

Case in point? The statewide movement requiring that future condominium housing must have charging stations for electronic vehicles. It’s a great idea but one that falls apart in the case of affordable housing.

That’s because every dollar that gets diverted from the basic construction of a roof to put over someone’s head reduces the number of units to be constructed. And seeing the homeless, the under-housed, the social strain on families, I believe we need every unit possible.

Aloha Stadium rail station HART with Pearl Harbor view.
The Aloha Stadium rail station. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Further, affordable housing should encourage using public transportation, not personal transport. The second-biggest barrier in any affordable housing project is qualifying the applicant by income, given all the reporting requirements. Big car payments limit a lot of deserving families.

Going forward, we need to break the regulatory and policy logjam that has made affordable housing too unprofitable and too risky. We can do that by incentivizing high-rises on rail stations, which allow the needed density for low-income households and for our workforce (librarians, firemen, etc.) families, for starter families and for the middle class.

Where you build housing, you also create a retail market, and a market for other goods and services. That also grows our economy, which grows our property tax base and funds housing and transportation.

That’s the goal, one that has a ton of followers, at least 20% of the families in our community.

But these followers need leadership. A disconnect within the political hierarchy of the state and the city was revealed when Gov. David Ige canceled the partnership with private developers of an adjoining entertainment district. Ige wants to instead focus just on the $350 rebuilding of the stadium.

Waiting is unacceptable, when the ways and the means are at hand.

What are the consequences?

The consequences will hit hard on the private sector, the many people who put in a good faith effort for getting to the starting gate. They have lost millions of dollars and years of work hours on practical solutions balancing competing uses.

And no matter what’s next, the restart seriously undermines the trust necessary for a functioning public-private partnership. The project needs the private sector to handle the risk, to design for the highest and best use of the site — with all the complexities — and to bring it in at the lowest cost.

The biggest consequences impact families stressed out by housing costs. It’s even worse for those just needing shelter.

Waiting is unacceptable, when the ways and the means are at hand. Ask the families at Mayor Wright Homes in Honolulu. Ask the families on any wait list for an affordable unit.

The need here is decisive leadership. The public sector should enable; the private sector will perform.

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About the Author

Ricky Cassiday

Ricky Cassiday is a Hawaii real estate marketing consultant.

Latest Comments (0)

I don't think housing should be built near a major stadium because of the noise factor. Concerts at the Waikiki Shell must end at 9:30 pm because of noise complaints. Does attendance at UH football games really justify a major stadium?

Thrasybulus_of_Athens · 7 months ago

High-rise apartments/condos may be a desirable housing solution for working singles/childless couples and empty-nesters, but are almost guaranteed to turn into slums/ghettos if used to house low/no income families. Doubt me? Look at all the major cities (Chicago and St. Louis being prime examples) that wiped out single/limited level housing during the New Deal (60s/70s) and crammed all their poor in high rise ghettos. Good intentions but no understanding of the added stress caused by only having a thin wall on both sides - and above and below - from other people having a tough time making their way in life. You better plan on putting police sub-stations on each block if that's the plan.

GaryD · 7 months ago

The slipped in criticism about EV charging is uncalled for. It makes sense to plan ahead for EV wiring because it's several times more expensive after the fact. These buildings will be up for decades, so when developers realize their tenants want to be able to power their vehicles, they'll install it at a higher price and pass that to tenants through building fees. Better for the tenants to do it cheaply now than way overpriced later, or not at all.Without a mandate, developers are always going to trim any costs possible to maximize their returns. Seems problematic equity-wise if people in condos don't have the option to power their vehicles. Also, the idea that low-income housing should be structured to discourage vehicle ownership seems concerning in that sense. Improve transit to the point that people choose to give up their vehicles if it suits them, don't design them out of that choice.However, I get that this is coming from a developer perspective and what would benefit them in developing the stadium and other areas (reducing regulation and anything that cuts into the bottom line)

GroundUp · 7 months ago

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