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Hawai‘i Could Fix Its Housing Crisis

I think the lack of housing is our No. 1 problem. I and my staff have covered the issue in many ways over the years and we will continue to do so. This time, I’m turning the floor over to people who were panelists at a soldout event on housing that I moderated Sept. 20 at YWCA Laniākea. Here are a few condensed highlights.

Joe Kent, executive director of the Grassroot Institute: “Our research shows about 5% of the land in Hawai‘i has been zoned for housing and the other 95% is open space and ag. I’m not talking about building on all that 95%, but even if you built on a fraction of a fraction more, it would allow for more housing. And I think we need not be afraid of the word ‘density,’ because in my mind increased density means affordable.”

Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, executive VP and managing partner of Kobayashi Group: “Joe was wondering why people are so against urban density. What changes when the building goes from 350 feet to 450 feet? It gets a lot less expensive to build – the land cost gets divided over more units. And guess what? Dense properties won’t become luxury because of their density. So you’re building housing that will stay in that target market naturally. The market deserves market housing. Our young people deserve to do what our parents did: Build home equity. We just have to make it easier.”

Alana Kobayashi Pakkala, executive VP and managing partner of Kobayashi Group | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

Sarah Love, partner at Lung Rose Voss & Wagnild and president of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii: “Density correlates to our infrastructure issue. If you’re trying to build housing in an area that doesn’t have infrastructure, it will cost a lot more to build. If you’re adding density in areas that already have infrastructure, then you save on project costs. So we need to maximize density where we can.”

Sterling Higa, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Hawai‘i’s Future: “What we do at Housing Hawaii’s Future is get people informed with our newsletter and provide them with the targeted opportunities to engage because you have jobs, you have things to do, you’re not going to show up to every committee hearing. But there are critical moments at the county council and state level, where if even half-dozen people show up and say something I sensible, a difference can be made. The problem is sometimes it’s just B.J. Penn at some meetings or retirement-age homeowners. If you’re not a retirement-age homeowner, your voices are not represented at those meetings. There is no countervailing force. Who calls a politician’s office and complains? It’s retirement-age homeowners because they have plenty of time. Meanwhile, their children and grandchildren are leaving because they can’t afford housing. The people making decisions are influenced in the wrong direction. You don’t have to show up to every meeting, but sometimes you have to show up, write a letter, give testimony or call a legislator. Because one voice at the right moment can shift an entire discussion.”

Billy Pieper, senior VP and director of strategic partnerships at American Savings Bank: “Halewai‘olu Senior Residences is a new affordable rental housing project (in Honolulu’s Chinatown) and people are already moving in. I remember the pushback from the community. It wasn’t until we actually personified the people who would be moving into this housing – brought them to meetings and they actually locked eyes with folks who had previously said, ‘Not in my backyard’ – that critics of the project finally said, ‘OK, we’ve got to do something different. Yes, continue.’ I feel like we need more of that. Bring back the aloha, that kindness.”

Billy Pieper, Senior VP & Director of Strategic Partnerships, American Savings Bank | Photo: Aaron Yoshino

Joe Kent: “When it comes to individual projects, we need to allow more by-right development, like they do in other parts of the world, such as Tokyo. (By-right means if the development is allowed by all existing regulations such as the zoning code, parking requirements and so on, it’s not subject to the discretion of local officials.) In Tokyo, if you want to build within your zone, you can, and you don’t have to ask your neighbors for permission. I hope we can find more ways to allow by-right development here.”

Source : HawaiiBusiness