COVID-19 has uncovered the harsh reality that many people are living in crowded living conditions, doubling and tripling up because that’s the only way they can manage to pay for housing. Even before COVID-19, an unrelenting increase in homelessness has underscored the severe shortage of affordable housing. Accessible, stable homes that are available and affordable to individuals and families are the foundation of a safe and vital community.
Faith Action for Community Equity and state Senate Housing Chairman Stanley Chang have partnered to sponsor an ongoing series of webinars on affordable housing, entitled “Our Homes: Ending the Housing Crisis.” Local, national and international experts have presented a variety of ideas that we in Hawaii may consider as we visualize a strategy for affordable housing.
Some of the ideas, which can be incorporated into an effective affordable housing strategy, are described below:
>> The state or its counties can provide large plots of land where developers can build affordable housing. Since the land cost would be zero, overall development costs would be reduced considerably. Sen. Chang has proposed the ALOHA Homes (Affordable Locally Owned Homes for All) program, based on the Singapore model, that would build high-density condominiums on State land, mixed with commercial uses, to create walkable neighborhoods.
Additionally, 40 acres of the Aloha Stadium site are not needed for the stadium or affiliated parking. Faith Action for Community Equity has proposed using that state land for housing that could accommodate an ALOHA Homes pilot project.
>> Much of the housing built recently, especially in the Kakaako and Kapiolani districts, are luxury condominiums that have been purchased by wealthy nonresidents. Many units are vacant most of the year because their owners live in Hawaii for only part of the year.
An empty homes fee would discourage nonresidents from owning housing in Hawaii. This would free up housing for residents, while shifting Hawaii’s housing market towards producing housing for residents.
>> The counties can reform zoning laws to re-shape the urban environment to create mixed-use, walkable and transit-connected neighborhoods. It is a long-term strategy that places a high priority on environmental sustainability.
This strategy encourages residents to walk to stores, restaurants and other urban amenities instead of driving, which burns fossil fuels. These patterns of development have proven to connect affordable housing to jobs while minimizing the use of cars.
>> When an affordable housing project is proposed for a neighborhood, nearby residents often oppose development, even if the project is worthwhile.
This reaction can be mitigated if, for example, each county establishes a numerical affordable housing goal, and then assigns targets to districts that achieve the overall goal.
Each district would be tasked with identifying viable locations within its boundaries for enough affordable housing to attain its target. In this way, communities would be proactively involved in planning. Communities need to move away from the reactionary project-by-project process and hold themselves accountable for positive and productive planning.
These ideas and others should be considered as elements of an affordable housing strategy. Enormous resources will be needed. However, those resources are justifiable because housing is a basic human need.
Affordable housing development will require communities to accept changes to the physical character of their neighborhoods. Our moral character should be judged by how we solve our housing crisis because we value the dignity of our fellow citizens who work hard and need stable, affordable housing.
As a compassionate society, we should be willing to commit to the well-being of families and stronger communities by formulating a comprehensive, effective affordable housing strategy.
Evelyn Aczon Hao is president of Faith Action for Community Equity; Calvin Pham chairs the Faith Action HousingNow! Task Force; John Kawamoto is Faith Action legislative specialist.