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  • Written by: Stewart Yerton (Civil Beat Senior Business Writer)

Solving Hawaii’s Housing Crisis: More Homes Per Lot? (Honolulu Civil Beat)

Hawaii Sen. Stanley Chang, chair of the Senate Housing Committee, says its time for Hawaii to discuss allowing more multi-family homes in residential neighborhoods. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)
In 2022, Sen. Stanley Chang, [Representative] Evslin’s counterpart as chairman of the Senate Housing Committee, introduced a bill that theoretically could have led to small apartment complexes being built in residential neighborhoods across the state. The measure would have required counties to allow “up to 10 residential dwelling units on any lot where a residential unit is permitted.”
The bill was more than a stretch in Hawaii, where home building has become a politically polarizing activity. But other states have moved away from the idea of the single-family home as a main way of sheltering people. Oregon, for example, banned single-family zoning in 2019. California followed suit with a law essentially allowing four homes per residential lot.
Although Chang’s measure died without a hearing, Evslin extolled the idea of such upzoning statutes. He wouldn’t say how many homes should be allowed on a single lot. He did say it shouldn’t be 10, as Chang proposed.
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‘We Need To Stop The Bleeding’
Chang, meanwhile, wants to focus on the way the state finances affordable housing projects. In broad terms, under the current system, the state steers state and federal tax credits and low-interest loans to private developers who build and own the properties and agree to rent units at below market rates for a set number of years.
After the affordability period ends, the developers can start charging market-rate rents for buildings that were essentially financed by the taxpayers. In actuality, Chang said, the state often buys the development to prevent masses of people from being forced out of their homes because of higher rents.
“The state is compelled to buy the projects back, so the developer gets a huge windfall,” Chang said.
He wants to makes sure that from now on low-income housing tax credit and gap loan money is steered toward projects that keep homes affordable in perpetuity.
“The concept is the projects should be affordable forever,” he said.
The affordability period for some 15,000 homes is set to expire between now and 2100, Chang said. And there’s no plan to house the tenants or buy the properties to keep them affordable. The state needs to quit subsidizing such projects, he said.
“At the very least we need to stop the bleeding,” he said.
 




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