Trying to build more affordable housing, Hawaii edition

The housing situation in Hawaii has gotten worse:

Photo by Jess Loiterton on

The median price of a single-family home topped $1 million in most areas of Hawaii during the coronavirus pandemic and has declined only modestly since. The state has the fourth-highest per capita rate of homelessness in the nation after California, Vermont and Oregon. On Thursday, new data showed the islands experienced net population loss five of the last six years. In 2022, U.S. census data showed more Native Hawaiians live outside Hawaii than within.

Some of the action taken thus far:

In one of his first moves after taking office in January, Democratic Gov. Josh Green created a new housing czar to oversee the effort. One thing Chief Housing Officer Nani Medeiros is focused on is identifying roadblocks and redundant permitting at local and state levels that can hold up construction. The administration also wants to pour $1 billion into housing programs, including $450 million to subsidize the construction of affordable dwellings.

Lawmakers have sponsored bills to trim bureaucracy, fund public housing renovations and encourage construction of dense housing on state land next to Honolulu’s planned rail line…

Some moves to shore up affordable housing by easing development regulations are being met with trepidation by conservationists, who warn that going too far in that direction could endanger the islands’ world-famous ecosystems and farmland…

Currently, housing construction is not keeping up with demand. Only 1,000 to 2,000 new housing units are being built in Hawaii each year. Those numbers are dwarfed by the 50,000 new units a 2019 state-commissioned study estimated would be needed by 2025.

This sounds similar to addressing affordable housing in numerous United States locations: high prices, limited land, long wait times to approve projects and carry out construction, and concerns about expanding development. It sounds like there are concerns particular to Hawaii as well.

In the bigger picture, the United States would benefit from states, metropolitan regions, and/or cities that can solve some of these affordable housing issues. What is the best path forward, particularly in balancing the interests of property owners, those who want to preserve green space and habitats, and the needs for more cheaper housing? A successful blueprint, or even several, could go a long way.

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