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HOOSER: Yes, in my backyard!

Yes, in my backyard! Putting affordable housing in my backyard is totally fine, and if government just gives me a little help — I’ll build it myself.

Like tens of thousands of homeowners across Hawai’i on every island, I’m allowed by law to build behind my existing home an additional dwelling unit (ADU), a guest house, ohana unit, or an additional rental unit (ARU) (different county’s call them different names).

I’d love to build a small rental unit for family (or for my wife and I when we get old) and/or to rent out for some extra retirement income.

Because the county offers property tax breaks for owners who rent at affordable rates, and because I want to do what’s right for family and community, I’d be happy to keep the rent of this new unit at truly affordable levels.

The law however requires me (and everyone else) to upgrade my cesspool to a septic system which could add up to $50,000 or more to the cost of construction.

If the state of Hawai’i would cover the first $50,000 of the costs via an affordable housing construction grant, thousands of existing homeowners across the island chain (including myself) would jump at the opportunity to build a little ohana unit out back.

Of course any such state grant must have strings attached to ensure that rents on the new unit remain affordable and short-term vacation rentals, and speculative sales, are prohibited.

Yes, if the state would help existing homeowners pay for that cesspool conversion/expansion or other startup construction costs, many would jump at the chance to build that little rental.

Better yet, the state could partner with the county and offer a “twofer.” For those affordable ohana units that break ground within one year and complete construction within 24 months (or whatever time frame is reasonable), both the county and the state could kick in $50,000 for a total $100,000 benefit.

Yes, strings must be attached to ensure long term affordability. But, a $100,000 incentive to help with construction costs would be a huge motivator for local residents to do what they’ve always wanted to do anyway, build that ohana unit in the back. And build it now.

Think about the benefits.

There’s no need for massive infrastructure upgrades that take decades to complete because these new homes are disbursed across existing neighborhoods.

There are almost zero environmental or cultural impacts for the same reasons.

There’s no need to suspend any law whatsoever.

The financial benefits of this affordable housing construction subsidy would go into the pockets of local residents hiring local contractors, and not exported to off-island developers hiring off-island contractors.

Zero land need to be rezoned, there’s zero increased urban sprawl, and zero loss of valuable agricultural lands.

To put icing on the cake, the entire thing could be structured so it’s “risk free” for the county and state government.

The state could provide its $50,000 as a low interest loan that converts to a grant upon completion of the affordable unit (with appropriate affordability protections in place).

All or a portion of the county’s $50,000 contribution could be via a long-term property tax credit, on taxes that the County would not be getting anyway unless the new unit was built.

Tell me please, what’s there not to like about this?

Yes, it leaves all of the big developers and big landowners out, and provides tangible financial help to regular local residents. But that’s what makes the whole idea even more better.

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Gary Hooser served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Counci. He presently writes on Hawaii Policy and Politics at www.garyhooser.blog.
Source: The Garden Island

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