Candidates for Hawaii’s top elected office are focusing on a persistent problem that has only gotten worse: the high cost of housing on the islands.
Andria Tupola, the Republican candidate for governor, said her party’s internal polling shows cost of living is the greatest concern for 55 to 60 percent of voters. She said she’s spoken to people who are leaving because they can’t afford to stay in the state.
She recalled one small-business owner in the Honolulu suburb of Hawaii Kai saying he supported her but this would be his last election in Hawaii.
“He said ‘I’m just tired. We’re tired of the struggle. Every day we work super hard and we’re barely making it,’” she said.
A recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition said a full-time worker in Hawaii must earn $36.13 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment at fair market rent of $1,879.
That hourly wage amounts to $75,158 a year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, average annual wages in Hawaii totaled $48,178 in 2016, 10.2 percent less than the U.S. average.
A worker earning Hawaii’s minimum wage of $10.10 per hour would need to work 3.6 full-time jobs to afford the same apartment.
The median price of a single-family home on Oahu, the state’s most populous island, hit $812,000 in September. That’s more than double the national median.
Gov. David Ige, who is running for re-election, said he hears similar concerns about housing and homelessness. Hawaii has the nation’s highest homeless population per capita.
The two candidates face off in today’s midterm election.
Tupola, 37, said she would like Hawaii residents to have priority in buying land, so they aren’t priced out. She wants to decrease the length of time needed for builders to get permits. She wants the state to partner with more local developers.
“There’s two ways to attack the shortage. One, you can build more. Two, you can patch up the holes where our local inventory is going to foreign investors,” she said.
Ige touted his administration’s support of the construction of 5,300 homes during his first term and its goal to help build 10,000 units by 2020. He said Hawaii has allowed state money to cover a portion of infrastructure costs, clearing the way for more affordable rentals to be built.
“I think it’s about accelerating and continuing the momentum that we’ve created,” Ige said.
Ige, 61, said the state is pursuing the development of state land along a rail line the city of Honolulu is building. The state is wants partnerships with private companies to redevelop several Honolulu public housing projects as a way to both boost public housing units and bring market priced rentals into the properties.
Ige has an advantage because more voters tend to vote Democrat than Republican in Hawaii. Linda Lingle, who served from 2002 to 2010, was the state’s last Republican governor.
The Republican Party is vastly outnumbered in legislative races this year, contesting only five of the 13 state Senate seats and 17 of 51 House seats.
In congressional races, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono is seeking re-election against Republican Ron Curtis, a retired engineer.
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case came out of retirement to run for House. The Democrat is running against Cam Cavasso, a Republican former state legislator. The seat is being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who unsuccessfully challenged Ige for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is seeking a fourth term in Congress representing rural Oahu and the Neighbor Islands. She’s being challenged by Republican Brian Evans, a singer and songwriter.