Hawaii Needs A New Approach To Housing - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Tina Grandinetti

Tina Grandinetti is a legislative staffer in the State House. She has a Ph.D. in urban studies from RMIT University and is a research affiliate of UCLA’s Unequal Cities Network.

Bianca Isaki

Bianca Isaki is an Oahu resident, lawyer, activist and women’s and gender dtudies lecturer at the University of Hawaii.

Ilima Long

Ilima Long is a mother, renter, union organizer, and President of Hui Aloha ‘Āina o Honolulu. 

Building new units is part of a comprehensive housing policy agenda, but it cannot be the only part.

This session, the Legislature heard a broad range of measures that purport to address the housing crisis by removing regulatory protections for workers, the environment, public transparency, and historical and cultural resources.

House Bill 1247 sought to exempt affordable housing projects from the Hawaii Environmental Policy Act, eroding important protections for our natural and cultural resources.

Senate Bill 872 would have automatically exempted housing projects under the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. from regulatory measures that help ensure responsible development.

House Bill 669 and House Bill 670 aimed to weaken the Land Use Commission’s authority over developments that have as little as 25% of their units set aside as “workforce” or “affordable” housing — an especially egregious attack considering that “affordable” is currently defined as housing that is affordable to households making 140% of area median income — as much as $133,280 for a family of four in Honolulu.

While most of these measures were deferred, they reflect a broader policy approach that aims to “solve” the housing crisis by building more, faster. This approach exploits the housing crisis in order to push forward deregulation and incentivization of the private sector at the expense of public lands and public input.

On an archipelago with limited land and even scarcer water resources, we have to seriously consider the ways that the “build, build, build” narrative is hurting us. The endless line of real estate investors seeking to buy a “piece of paradise” means a larger housing inventory may not alleviate a shortage of housing for local or low-income communities.

Several worthwhile housing bills have already been deferred at the Legislature. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

While building new units is one element of a comprehensive housing policy agenda, it cannot be the only approach, because it gives money, resources, and power to the very same developers and real estate interests who benefit from the escalating cost of housing.

Developers and landlords are not selflessly providing housing. They are investing in an asset to extract profit. It is a simple but dangerous contradiction: Lowering the cost of housing eats into their profit. If they “solved” the housing crisis, they would hurt their own bottom line.

We can look to real examples to see what happens when this policy approach wins. Kauhale Kamaile in Waianae, which was built under former Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation on homelessness, cost $5 million to build 16 units and still requires residents to pay as much as $1,200/month in rent.

In Kakaako, we subsidized private development and in return, watched an entire neighborhood become overrun with luxury condominiums that serve as shells for speculation. On the Ewa Plain, we paved over vast tracts of agricultural lands to build market-rate subdivisions despite the fact that nearly a quarter of home purchases are made by out-of-state buyers.

The prevailing logic seems to be that the only way we make housing more affordable is to build more housing that no one can afford.

Rather than accept the false choice between unchecked development and economic displacement, we advocate for an approach that centers the people most impacted by housing insecurity. We can do this by regulating the real estate market, imposing vacancy taxes, implementing rent control, strengthening the rights of renters who make up 40% of Hawaii households, and fighting the dispossession of Hawaiian families from their lands.

Developers and landlords are not selflessly providing housing.

We support measures like House Bill 1338, which would have established rent regulation and protected tenants from arbitrary lease non-renewals, and House Bill 1339, which would have extended the notice periods that landlords are required to give tenants when they intend to raise rents or terminate a lease.

These now-dead bills would have granted a modicum of security to the roughly 186,000 households that live as renters here in Hawaii, many of whom are just one rent hike or lease termination away from being displaced.

While rent regulation and tenant protections have been maligned by hedge-fund investors and real estate development interests for decades, in recent years we have witnessed a global wave of tenants’ movements that have fought to implement rent regulation, expand existing rent controls, and prohibit no-fault evictions as necessary checks against rising home prices.

Data shows that these measures work. They benefit existing renters, increase overall neighborhood stability, and aid in workforce retention in high-cost cities.

This is particularly important as we watch our loved ones leave due to the high cost of living. Strengthening the rights of tenants means keeping more local people in their homes, keeping more Hawaiians in their homeland, and preserving more of the Hawaii we love so dearly.

We regulate many other industries to ensure the safety and well-being of the public. Why should the rental market be any different?

In order to address the housing crisis, we need to put land and people before profit. After all, housing is not just an asset, it is also a basic human need, and a human right.

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About the Authors

Tina Grandinetti

Tina Grandinetti is a legislative staffer in the State House. She has a Ph.D. in urban studies from RMIT University and is a research affiliate of UCLA’s Unequal Cities Network.

Bianca Isaki

Bianca Isaki is an Oahu resident, lawyer, activist and women’s and gender dtudies lecturer at the University of Hawaii.

Ilima Long

Ilima Long is a mother, renter, union organizer, and President of Hui Aloha ‘Āina o Honolulu. 

Latest Comments (0)

Government regulation, or interference a solution, when has that ever worked? Not sure if you recall, airlines used be regulated and when uncle Sam extricated, the industry flourished, prices dropped and now you have 2 airlines offering fares for under $40 to any island. Rent control is controversial at best, with proponents saying it works to lower housing costs, but has it really worked in places like the Bay Area, or NYC? Landlords have little incentive to maintain and upgrade properties that do not bring in value, period. And the whole reason why you are not seeing more local rentals here is because of the draconian landlord-tenant code, a government interference, which gives the renters more rights than the property owner. Who would want to rent under these circumstances? Fix that and you may have more takers. Lastly, there are developers that specialize in affordable projects. There hasn't been a KPT, or Palama settlement project in over 50 years. The city needs to PPP with someone for these type of projects to solve the lower end housing crisis.

wailani1961 · 6 months ago

The permit process takes too long. Even if developers line up new projects for approval, the permitting process bottlenecks the process.

elrod · 6 months ago

The problem is supply and demand and supply is the only half of that equation that can be addressed. We need to reform zoning, invest in evolving interisland transportation, and consider bold development such as undersea communities. Artificially playing with market conditions is temporary and unsustainable; we need to take on the root cause. I got a plan to fix this solvable challenge. Elect me.

Akamai_ideas · 7 months ago

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