Name on ballot:
State Senate – District 9
Previous job history:
State Senator (2016-present); City Council (2011-15); lawyer
Previous elected office, if any:
City Council (2011-15)
Please describe your qualifications to represent the people of Hawaii.
I have represented our district for eight years: four years as City Councilmember and the past four years as State Senator. Your concerns are my top priority in representing our community. That’s why I’ve knocked on 35,000 doors and spoken to many thousands of you personally.
As a lifelong resident of our district, my parents’ experience inspired me to run for office. They got here from China with nothing. My father became a professor at UH, and he was able to buy a home, put my brother and me through school, and give us opportunities we could never have had anywhere else in the world. Today, 90 percent of my high school class went to college on the mainland, and most haven’t come back. The American dream–to have a good job, raise a family, and buy a home–is no longer possible for young people today and for future generations. It is that understanding that lies behind my public service.
What will be your top priority if elected?
My top priority is a new social contract with the people of Hawaii: that all workers should be able to live decent and happy lives. One recent labor union campaign put it well: “One job should be enough.” Actually, this social contract was in effect for most of the country in the postwar era, which fostered an enormous economic expansion and established the American middle class.
Hawaii families already enjoy many of the essential elements of a good life, such as universal free K-12 education and near-universal health care. The biggest missing component of the vision is housing. After decades of undersupply, Hawaii’s housing shortage has been estimated at 65,000 units over a ten year period, driving home prices and rents to the highest levels in the country. One recent study estimated that a worker earning the median wage would need 40 years–yes, 40 years–to save for the median down payment. That’s why Hawaii has the highest percentage of people working two or more jobs in the country and both parents working in the country, just to barely scrape by.
We have the highest home prices in the nation, which leads to the highest cost of living in the nation, which leads to the highest rate of people working two or more jobs in the nation and both parents working in the nation. Every year, about 18,000 babies are born in Hawaii. These are local people, not wealthy overseas investors or mainland visitors. Every year, about 10,000 people die. Even if we make the unrealistic assumption that all 8,000 new people every year marry each other and stay married to each other, that means we still need 4,000 housing units for those new 4,000 new couples. On average, Hawaii produces 2,000 housing units per year. That gap has persisted for years and decades. Until we dramatically increase housing production, the shortage will continue to worsen, until Hawaii’s middle class is forced out completely.
ALOHA Homes is one solution to the housing shortage. ALOHA stands for Affordable, Locally Owned Homes for All. The State would take existing lands that it owns near rail stations, such as parcels already slated for redevelopment or other underutilized parcels, and build high density housing. These developments would be highly walkable, and their residents would commute via rail instead of in cars on the road. They would be sold at cost, as little as $300,000, which means a monthly mortgage payment of $1,500. There would be no taxpayer subsidy, and only Hawaii residents who would be owner-occupants and own no other real property could buy them. These projects would be built on existing urbanized lands and would require not one inch of agricultural, conservation, or otherwise undeveloped land.
Employing a similar model for over 50 years, Singapore’s public housing system now houses 82 percent of its population in high quality, well maintained developments with very little private car usage. Singapore successfully accommodates a population of 5.5 million on an island less than half the size of Oahu.
Hawaii can house its future generations. The accelerating exodus to the mainland and the homelessness crisis on our streets are not inevitable laws of physics. By building at sufficient density, maximizing walkability, minimizing building cost, and restricting ownership to Hawaii residents, we can achieve an abundance of affordable housing for many decades to come.
Future generations will be able to move out and start families of their own instead of being trapped in their childhood bedrooms. They will be able to enjoy time with their families instead of spending hours stuck in traffic or rushing from one shift to the next. They will enjoy fresher and more convenient food, as shopping will be within easy walking distance of their homes. As they age, they won’t have to take the car to go to the grocery store, post office, bank, or pharmacy; they can simply take an elevator. And for all those who prefer their current car-centric suburbs, that’s fine. Not one existing house need be demolished to make way for these projects. This vision is possible, indeed it is imperative, from a sustainability perspective. All we need is the leadership to take the first step.
As Hawaii faces the COVID-19 pandemic, what more can be done to protect residents’ health?
Hawaii so far has done a remarkable job of keeping the local coronavirus threat contained to a safe level. We ought to be proud of the fact that we have the third-lowest number of COVID-19 cases in the US and have flattened the curve to well within our capacity to treat those who need it. We have all sacrificed to make this happen, and I am particularly grateful for the hard work of our medical and public health community.
Before opening up our islands to greater inbound tourism arrivals, Hawaii must ensure adequate testing and contact tracing capacity. We must perform temperature monitoring on travelers, impose quarantines on those without negative coronavirus tests, and rigorously enforce quarantines.
In the long term, ending Hawaii’s housing shortage will also improve public health. Many of Hawaii’s current coronavirus clusters are in overcrowded homes where social distancing and self-isolation are impossible. With a dramatic expansion of our housing stock, the transmission of disease will decline.
What more can be done to help residents who have been economically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
In a matter of weeks, Hawaii has gone from having the nation’s lowest unemployment rate to the third highest. Unfortunately, we still receive calls and emails from the approximately 10,000 unemployment applicants who have yet to receive benefits, and the economic pain has struck virtually every community and family in the state. The State must prioritize getting federal CARES Act funds to direct assistance to individuals as rapidly as possible, and the Legislature’s recent appropriation of those funds to supplement rent and unemployment payments are good examples of this. The State must reallocate human resources to these programs to handle the remaining claims, many of which require more complex human intervention than simple processing.
The State should also maximize federal financing of unemployment benefits through the Department of Labor and other state operations through the Municipal Lending Facility.
Should public worker furloughs, pay cuts or downsizing be used to help the state deal with lower tax revenues and higher expenses during the pandemic? Why or why not?
No. State furloughs, pay cuts, and downsizing would only exacerbate the economic crisis and hamstring government’s ability to deliver needed services to the people, like public education. The state budget cannot and should not be balanced as long as the pandemic continues to suffocate our economy. The state constitution permits an unbalanced budget during times of emergency, which we are clearly in today. The good news is that the state has more options than ever to access additional financing, such as the federal Municipal Liquidity Facility and Department of Labor.
Hawaii’s tourism-dependent economy has suffered greatly due to the pandemic. If elected, what would you propose to support and diversify the state’s economy?
There are several promising economic sectors that the State should grow, as the pandemic has exposed the economic vulnerability of the tourism industry. Two sectors offer the lowest hanging fruit.
First, the demand for affordable housing has only grown with the downturn in the economy. With existing construction technologies and techniques, new housing units can be built for as little as $300,000 each, which translates to a mortgage or rental payment of $1,500 per month, which a majority of Hawaii residents consider to be affordable. Proper safeguards can ensure that these units will be available to Hawaii residents. The continued production of these homes for every generation of local people, without taxpayer subsidy, would provide a steady construction job pipeline for years and decades to come.
Second, Hawaii can replace the fossil fuels that currently supply the large majority of our electricity with renewable sources. Hawaii’s abundance of wind, solar, biofuel, and other clean energy sources could make us the Saudi Arabia of clean energy. Every year, we send over $5 billion out of state to buy oil. Keeping that money in state enables it to be deployed to create jobs and stimulate the economy here, rather than overseas.
Do you support reforms to policing in Hawaii? If yes, please explain what reforms you support.
Yes. Although our race and policing issues are not identical to those in our sister states, we have serious issues of our own, including open racism against the Micronesian and Native Hawaiian communities, hostility to immigrants and new residents from the American continent, and lingering tension among our existing ethnic groups. I support reforms that strengthen oversight over our law enforcement and address police misconduct. I support universal body cam use. I support HB285’s disclosure requirement. I believe in an empowered, fully funded Police Commission and oversight boards to enhance public accountability.
Directly underlying many of the social problems of our community are mental health issues, notably substance abuse disorder. The criminal justice system addresses only the symptoms of the problem, and not well. Sending heavily armed police officers with no training in deescalation or addressing mental health episodes to deal with a schizophrenic or drug addicted person is not the answer. Focusing on treating the substance abuse and other mental conditions is a necessary component of a re-conceptualization of public safety.
Even more broadly, the economic disparities that have widened over the last 30 years have exacerbated these issues. If every worker had the ability to support a family comfortably, the community would be safer, with less need for policing measures.
Do you support or oppose the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on the Big Island and why?
Yes, I would like to see the telescope built. But I also think the protectors have raised a number of very real concerns about management of the mountain over the decades. Before proceeding with construction, it’s reasonable to expect accountability for past mismanagement, implementation of new measures to ensure that the concerns will not recur, and engagement with the Native Hawaiian community with true open mindedness.
Is there anything more that you would like voters to know about you?
The coronavirus pandemic has produced some truly unprecedented times for all of us. But what it has really done is expose some of the fundamental underlying problems in our community: the housing shortage, the lack of good jobs, and the limited economic mobility, to name a few. We have a historic opportunity to seize the initiative, to start meeting the challenge, to create a better future for all generations. I humbly ask for your vote to continue our work to achieve this dream.
The most responsive form of government is one that comes to you, listens and serves you. Whether we have met or not, please let me know how I can serve you. Regardless of party, political views, gender, or economic background, please contact me online at www.stanleychang.com, email: email@example.com, or call me: (808) 778-5783.
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