Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024 |
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After Gov. Josh Green issued a proclamation last month declaring a housing emergency in Hawaii, a group of county and state officials met Friday for the first time to begin to address it.
The Build Beyond Barriers Working Group is a 23-member panel aimed at finding ways to streamline the development of housing in an effort to make it more affordable for residents who are, the panelists said, increasingly driven out of the state by unaffordable costs of living.
Green’s July 17 proclamation granted the working group the ability to approve housing projects and expedite development by loosening regulations such as the need for environmental impact statements, the state public procurement code, the general excise tax and more.
At Friday’s inaugural meeting of the working group, most of the 23 members met via videoconference, but largely limited their activity to introducing themselves and commiserating about the housing problem.
“Growing up in a very poor district of the (Big) Island, many of the folks I went to school with, and their kids, it wasn’t really an option for them to have a home,” said Hawaii County Planning Director Zendo Kern, one of four Big Island representatives on the working group. “Right now, our biggest export in Hawaii is our children.”
Kern was joined by several other members describing how they or their family members are unable to afford a home in Hawaii or have moved to the mainland in search of more affordable housing.
State statistics put the average cost of a single-family home at $850,000, more than 2.5 times the national average. A household would require an annual income of $252,000 to afford such a home, a threshold which fewer than one in three Hawaii households meet.
Another member, Shelee Kimura, CEO of Hawaiian Electric, referenced the wildfire disaster in Lahaina to point out the dangers in pricing too many people out of the state.
“Being on Maui right now and seeing what’s happening, recognizing how important ohana is in resilience, the importance of extended families and people staying with extended family when they don’t have a home, and getting that kind of help, that built-in resilience of our communities,” Kimura said. “It’s so fundamental and foundational to the fabric of Hawaii … and as more and more families get broken up because they can’t afford to live here, we’re breaking up the fabric of Hawaii.”
Following their introductions, group members spent the rest of the meeting discussing procedures for how to handle future meetings.
The meeting did not touch upon any specific housing projects that could be considered for expedited approval, but Chief Housing Officer Nani Medeiros estimated that 24 to 30 projects in the development pipeline could be candidates over the next year.
The group also did not discuss whether any projects approved through the group would be reserved for Hawaii residents or would qualify as affordable housing.
The next meeting will take place Aug. 29.
Email Michael Brestovansky at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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