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Waitlists, affordability obstacles in Hawai‘i housing crisis

LIHU‘E — Hawai‘i leaders met Tuesday to address the public about the state’s on-going housing crisis, recommending a multi-pronged approach to address rising home costs.

“We need all kinds of housing to be built,” state Rep. Nadine Nakamura said. “New housing, rehabbed homes, incentives for developers, all the above, to address the problem.”

The event was hosted by Nakamura and state Sen. Stanley Chang, chairs of the House and Senate housing committees, respectively.

The forum was specifically held on Feb. 22, the 53rd day of the year, Chang said, because the average homeless person in Hawai‘i has a lifespan of only 53 years. The average state life expectancy is nearly 81.

Hawai‘i has the second-highest rate of homelessness in the nation, with 10,000 homeless residents each year, said Jill Wright, the community-relations director for the Institute for Human Services.

While she acknowledged mental-health problems and substance abuse as factors that contribute to homelessness, Wright emphasized the lack of affordable-housing options as the main driver.

“If there is nowhere that they can afford to go then the cycle repeats itself. Unless there is a place where people can affordably live, then we are not going to see an end to this homelessness crisis soon,” said Wright.


A proposed funding bill currently going through the Legislature seeks to provide an unprecedented $600 million to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. The bill would provide the organization the ability to cut down what has
become sometimes-decades-long wait times for beneficiaries to get into homes.

“The $600 million shouldn’t be seen as a magic bullet,” said Tyler Gomes, deputy to the chairman of the DHHL.

One DHHL estimate found that the infrastructure for every individual on the current waitlist would cost more than $4 billion.

“I hope that this can be the catalyst for continuing to provide historic funding levels to the department in order to ensure that we can cut down on the waitlist,” Gomes said.

Waitlists for public housing tend to quickly become overcrowded, housing officials reported.

The Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority serves about 45,000 tenants through 6,270 federal and state public-housing units; 3,400 Section 8 vouchers; 214 state rent-supplement units; 3,000 performance-based contract condos and 182 emergency vouchers.

Yet these services do not match the need.

“Any time we open the waitlist we’re shocked to see that over 10,000 folks apply for our assistance in two to three days,” Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority Executive Director Hakim Ouansafi said.

Affordability and development

“Affordable isn’t really affordable,” said Soon Kim, a community organizer for the Faith Action Network. “The public has no faith in the term ‘affordable housing’ due to the fact that the state allows subsidized and incentivized developments to develop up to higher 140% AMI (area median income) amounts. As a result, these homes end up costing far more than what people can afford despite being labeled as ‘affordable.’”

Developers, meanwhile, stressed that they needed to expedite the process of development in order to keep the costs of projects down.

Stanford Carr of Stanford Carr Development, LLC, said that government regulations had added to the cost of housing.

“It all comes down to cost,” said Christine Camp, president and CEO of the Avalon Group. “We have to look at what is adding to that cost. How much money has been spent just to get the right to deliver affordable housing?”

A report from Title Guaranty Hawai‘i showed that the median sale price of a single-family home on Kaua‘i had actually fallen 10.7% in January 2022 compared to January 2021, and down 43.1% from December 2021.

This median price sits at $925,000, while the median sales price for a condo was $505,000.

Forty-eight single-family homes and 25 condos were sold in January, down 27.3% from the same period last year.

This only represents one month of data, however, and the broader trend shows housing prices rising on the island. Over the entire year, Kaua‘i’s median single-family home price increased by over 35% in 2021 to hit $1.1 million.


Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 647-0329 or
Source: The Garden Island

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