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The Lighthouse: Shining a Light on Hawaiʻi’s Housing Crisis

By: Darryl Oliveira

Through this series, the Hawaiʻi Island Housing Coalition aims to raise awareness on the growing challenges and collective efforts to meet the housing needs in our community and address the wide range of barriers contributing to the crisis.

Everyday we hear about the housing crisis that communities are experiencing locally, statewide, and across the nation: record median prices for homes, limited housing inventory available for purchase or rent, a steady widening of the gap between home prices and household income levels, island residents leaving the state because of out of reach housing costs, and a growing number of individuals and families that are at-risk or currently experiencing homelessness.

In the poem Shoulders, Shane Koyczan writes, “The most alarming part of the statement 'we are facing crisis' isn't the word 'crisis', it's the word 'we' because those two letters take the responsibility away from one and rest it squarely on the shoulders of everybody.”

Recognizing the need for a multi-sector approach to address the complex challenges that contribute to the crisis, the Hawaiʻi Island Housing Coalition brings together stakeholders representing business, philanthropy, social services, government, and community to implement strategies that are informed by disaggregated county-level data to address a broad spectrum of housing needs in our community. The vision of the Coalition is to reduce the shelter burden for Hawaiʻi Island residents by providing a spectrum of housing options. Over 30% of Hawaiʻi County residents are shelter burdened: paying more than 30% of their income towards shelter costs.

Consider this: the current median sales price of a single family home on Hawai’i Island tops $550,000. A 20% down payment and 30-year mortgage financing would result in a monthly mortgage payment of approximately $2,221. With the addition of a modest $400 for utilities, the total monthly “shelter” cost for the homeowner is $2,621. To remain below the shelter burden threshold of 30% of the household income the homeowner would need to have an annual income of $104,840.

Understanding that the housing crisis is fueled by supply and demand, Core Teams of the Housing Coalition aim to increase home production, preservation, and workforce housing, support land use policy that promotes equity and affordability, support the development of vacant parcels tied to infrastructure, and establish a revolving fund for housing options. Stakeholders meet monthly to share data, provide Core Team updates, monitor current housing initiatives to support through public testimony, and hear from subject matter experts locally and nationally who are implementing innovative solutions to address housing shortfalls.

Although we are experiencing and witnessing the myriad of personal challenges and difficulties with housing, all is not doom and gloom. Political will is shifting and more attention is being given to this issue. Local proof and evidence is the recent passage of Bill 111 by the Hawaii County Council that will establish a fund to support programs and development aimed at addressing homelessness and housing. The source of the funds will come from real property tax collected on tier two properties or those valued at $2 million dollars or more. The passage of such legislation is an example of the type of solutions that can be implemented and the need to identify more.

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