By Lowell L. Kalapa
(Released on 9/15/13)
When it comes to a discussion of affordable housing in Hawaii, there is a glaring paradox as observers decry the shortage of affordable housing, be it for ownership or for rent, which contributes to the high cost of living in Hawaii while at the same time prevent the development of additional affordable housing.
Those very observers who are concerned about the high cost of housing in Hawaii seem to throw up every roadblock possible to thwart efforts that would otherwise increase the supply of affordable housing units. Government itself, which seems to lead the cry for more affordable housing units, imposes a labyrinth of permitting and zoning requirements that impede the development of those affordable housing units. For example, one nonprofit organization which does nothing but develop affordable housing waited seven and a half years to secure all the necessary permits and zoning changes before it could put its first shovel in the ground. And when it went to the “top” to accelerate the process after waiting two and a half years, the bureaucrats denounced the nonprofit as wanting special treatment, a point the nonprofit clarified as being accorded “special treatment” under the state’s affordable housing statute, HRS chapter 201H.
Then there are those concerned citizens who want to get those “homeless” campers off of their neighborhood’s sidewalks, but are not ready to accept a shelter in their “back yard.” Get the homeless out of their back yards, but just make sure they are not allowed in “my neighborhood.” Otherwise known as the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) syndrome, these folks have identified the problem, but they want the solution undertaken some place else than in their neighborhood. But if they want the problem solved, they sure don’t want to pay for the solution. Unfortunately, the solution will cost all taxpayers something if it is to be solved.
Then there are those well-meaning folks who believe that more affordable housing is needed, but they feel like they got into the pasture and now want to close the gates behind them. An example of this syndrome is the folks in Kaka’ako or west and central Oahu where they have their own affordable housing but don’t want any more families to join them because those new units will create traffic nightmares and overcrowding of public facilities such as schools and parks.
Recently a spate of proposals to build new high rise projects in Kaka’ako set off protests from residents in neighboring projects saying these proposed projects are going to ruin the neighborhood, create traffic congestion, bring overcrowding and block the views of existing projects. Even the elected representatives of the district joined with their constituents to raise concerns and opposition to some of these proposed projects. However, no one seemed to point out that these proposed high rises would create the “affordable housing” that families sorely need as state law requires the developers of new projects to set aside units as “affordable” for first-time home buyers.
The other point that seemed to be missed in all of this rancor is the fact that the development of new housing means adding value to the real property tax rolls, not to mention the economic activity that would create jobs and, therefore, state tax revenues on income earned by the workers on the project as well as the money that they would then spend in the economy.
If the residents of some of these adjacent properties believe that they will lose that priceless view from their apartments or have to suffer traffic congestion, then perhaps the real property assessor has been undervaluing their homes which have that priceless view and currently little traffic around their condominiums.
Speaking of traffic, that is one of the major arguments folks out in central and leeward Oahu make about further development in that area. Is this argument of traffic congestion an indictment that the proposed rail system is not going to work and, therefore, additional development should not occur? If, in fact, the proposed rail system is on track to be up and running within this decade, then by the time the new developments come on line much of the imagined traffic congestion should be relieved by the proposed mass transit system.
Finally, the most important issue that stands in the way of creating more affordable housing is if not here or there, then where will that housing be built? If not in Kaka’ako or central Oahu, shall we put up a high-rise on the windward side up against the Ko’olau Mountains? If the public and their elected officials continue to oppose reasonable development of housing, then certainly Hawaii is doomed to have little, if any, affordable housing.