BIA Housing Summit: "Still Houseless in Hawai'i"

Nov 14, 2017

Housing Crisis?
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The Building Industry Association of Hawai’i sponsored its 3rd Summit titled, “Still Houseless in Hawai’i.” HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Maui mayor Alan Arakawa, Kaua'i mayor Bernard Carvalho, Honolulu Mayor's chief of staff, Gary Kurokawa and Hawai'i mayor's homeless coordinator Lance Ni'imi provided perspectives from the counties
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

The state estimates the Island of O’ahu needs close to 26-hundred housing units built each year over the next decade.  But, less than 900 units were built last year.   Economist Paul Brewbaker says the government regulatory process is to blame.

“I graduated from Kailua High School in 1973, a year in which there were 13-thousand housing units authorized by housing permits.  In one year.  Koa Ridge and Ho’opili combined, without computers.   Okay.  If you’ve got a process that issued 13-thousand building permits a year and now, with computers, and apps and whatever.  Braddah.  The problem is you.”

Brewbaker says since the mid-1970s, less than 1 percent of existing housing stock is built each year.   Maui Mayor, Alan Arakawa, says the state has not kept up with building the infrastructure needed and has passed on these responsibilities to developers instead.

“On Maui, in my lifetime, we’ve tripled the population.  In the next 60-some-odd years, ‘cause I’m  66 now, you can expect that population to again triple.  Within a hundred years you can expect to be 4 times what it is.  And you’re gonna see that progression of growth.  What you see is the departments and county over-regulate – ad nauseum- to make it impossible to get the permit and all of the costs are being dumped on the developers which make it almost impossible to pencil out any of the projects.”

But, the State says it’s on track to build 10-thousand units by 2020.  Denise Iseri-Matsubara is the Governor’s Senior Special Assistant.

“About 53-hundred units have been produced since the Governor first took office.  Forty percent of those are affordable.  Another 14-hundred units are under construction.  And another 45-hundred units are in some stage of the planning phase.”

Iseri-Matsubara says the governor and legislature added 150 million dollars to the state’s affordable housing accounts managed by the Hawai’I Housing Finance and Development Corporation.  But, Reverend Bob Nakata, from Faith Action for Community Equity, says that’s not reality.

“Everybody agrees, affordable housing is the worst problem in the state.  But who is talking about the kind of funding necessary to do affordable housing.  Housing is an expensive proposition.  So the political will to provide that funding is not there.”

Economist Paul Brewbaker
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Meanwhile, Economist Brewbaker,  says the supply-side of housing -- the developers -- cannot navigate the regulatory process in time to meet increased peaks in demand.

“We’re not in a housing crisis right now.  Interest rates are low, we’re not having a bubblelicious valuation moment so home prices are rising along a long-term trajectory.  This is the moment to build housing because people can finance it to get in.  So don’t wait. Don’t screw it up.”

For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.