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Hawai‘i Gov. Green signs housing emergency proclamation

HONOLULU — Hawai‘i Gov. Josh Green on Monday signed a sweeping emergency proclamation on housing, slashing development regulations and creating a new streamlined process in an effort to rapidly meet the state’s housing demands.

“We don’t have enough houses for our people — it’s really that simple,” Green said. “That’s where we are, and we are struggling and suffering because that is the case. If anyone says this isn’t an emergency, or this isn’t a crisis, they are not aware of what’s going on in Hawai‘i.”

The proclamation directs all state agencies to prioritize housing reviews, plans, approvals and permit processing.

Several regulations have also been paused under the proclamation to speed up agency processes and encourage new developments.

County governments can now allow construction of multi-family residential developments within business and commercial districts, and can approve district boundary amendments up to 100 acres. Third-party reviewers can also be hired at state and county agencies, and agencies can more easily transfer resources between one another as needed.

The proclamation also creates simplified alternative processes for state historic preservation and environmental reviews as a means of minimizing regulatory procedure times.

A 2022 University of Hawai‘i report found Hawai‘i has the strictest housing regulations of any state.

“Regulations are helping us price our own people out,” said state Chief Housing Officer Nani Medeiros. “Our workers are leaving, our keiki are leaving, our Native Hawaiians are moving to the continent, and we have to take bold steps now to change that.”

A new state position, lead housing officer, will coordinate with state, county and nongovernmental groups to increase housing development, explore innovative approaches, create working groups, prioritize housing projects and review accountability, among other responsibilities.

Additionally, a newly-formed Build Beyond Barriers (BBB) Working Group will review, certify, prioritize and coordinate accepted projects.

The 12-month emergency
proclamation can be changed at any time, and must be re-signed by the governor every 60 days to remain in effect.

The proclamation comes at the height of a decades-long housing crisis across the state. Home prices in Hawai‘i have increased by 1,200 percent in 45 years, while income has only grown 600 percent. With housing costs contributing significantly to Hawai‘i’s excessive cost of living — the highest in the U.S. — the state has also seen emigration increase in recent years, with an average 20 Hawai‘i residents leaving the state every day in 2022.

The housing crisis has hit Native Hawaiians the hardest. Beginning in 2021, for the first time ever, more Native Hawaiians now live on the mainland than in Hawai‘i. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of Hawai‘i’s homeless population are Native Hawaiian, despite constituting only about 21 percent of the state’s population.

“For those that question whether there’s (need for) an emergency proclamation, let me just say, Hawaiians are dying out there without a doubt,” said state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Director Kali Watson.

High housing costs have also impacted Hawai‘i’s ability to retain its youths, especially after they graduate from college. Medeiros emphasized this issue by pointing out an Hawai‘i-born environmental justice college student, Kiki, who sat in the audience during the proclamation announcement.

“I want people like Kiki to come home,” Medeiros said, choking back tears. “If somebody’s going to protect our ‘aina and our home that we were born and raised in, I want it to be the local girl who went to college to study it.”

The proclamation applies to all housing projects instead of just affordable housing. Green explained that this was intentional, in an effort to address individuals who earn too much to qualify for affordable housing yet too little to afford to buy market-rate housing.

“If you need a nurse, a lot of times you can’t find one because we don’t have a house that they can afford. If you need a firefighter in an emergency, they’re maybe on their second or third shift back-to-back because we have too few of them here in the state,” Green said.

“If your child needs a teacher and they don’t have one in their classroom, and it’s a temporary teacher or sub for the third or fourth year in a row, it’s probably because we don’t have enough teachers in the state, because they can’t afford housing. If that’s not a crisis, if that’s not an emergency, I don’t know what is.”


Jackson Healy, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-4966 or
Source: The Garden Island

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