Honolulu Mayor releases strategy plan to address affordable housing

Homelessness and lack of affordable housing continue to be problems all across the country. With Hawaii’s high cost of living, 24.4% above the national average, homelessness is rapidly increasing and there are more and more collaborations jumping in to face it head-on.

On Thursday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, released a 44-point action plan addressing long-term affordability and the climate crisis that is impacting people and their homes. The action plan includes immediate and long-term changes.

The “O’ahu Resilience Strategy” is a product of the collaboration that happened in the summer of 2017 where more than 140 island leaders from different organizations came together to preserve their quality of life and strong community, all while reducing the cost of living. A survey was distributed to the 33 neighborhood boards of O’ahu and gathered input from over 2,300 people. With this feedback came the four pillars of the strategy: cost of living, natural disaster preparation, climate change, and power in the community.


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“Hawai‘i has the highest cost of living and housing prices in the United States and despite recent progress, O‘ahu continues to have the highest per-capita homeless rate in the nation. In many ways, this Resilience Strategy recognizes that O‘ahu must return to our traditional values of equity and responsible stewardship if we are to continue to thrive as a close-knit island community.”

The first pillar of the plan is “remaining rooted,” which aims to ensure an affordable future for O’ahu and continue a sense of community. Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the nation, so the plan’s goal is to reduce expenses and invest in long-term solutions. The strategy states that the outmigration of local families and homelessness are directly associated with affordability. The high cost of living is due to Honolulu’s housing costs.

According to the strategy, “forty-six percent of O’ahu’s households have difficulty meeting basic needs with about 10 percent officially living in poverty.”

The plan created set goals along with actions to reach those goals.


Goal 1: Supporting Affordable Housing Development

1. Reduce empty homes and increase affordable housing funding

O’ahu’s long-term vacancy rate is 5.3%. A feature of the plan is to set a fee on properties that are vacant for more than six months of the year. The hope is that this will provide funds for more housing in O’ahu. This fee at 1% could potentially open 10,000 units, which equals $60 million for housing.

2. Return illegal vacation rental units to local housing

One out of every 30 units on O’ahu is not accessible for locals. On the North Shore, one in four units are being illegally rented as vacation rentals. The plan looks to revise the short-term rental policies to combat the outcomes of illegal short-term rental growth.

3. Develop alternative affordable housing options for O’ahu residents

The land-use policy will be revised for increased shared housing in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zones, market Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), and support culturally appropriate housing models.

4. Expand affordable housing funding by implementing progressive property taxes

Hawaii has one of the lowest property rates in the country at 0.28%. The plan proposes moving to a progressive property tax, which would continue the low property tax rate for residents, but increase the rate for property classes, bringing in money to the city for more affordable options.

5. Implement a guaranteed security program to support local home ownership

A Bonded Security Deposit Program may be administered through a nonprofit organization that will help people who are facing the challenge of saving money for their security deposit and build equity for their next home. The organization would provide the security deposit to the landlord and the renter would gradually contribute to the deposit over time.


Goal 2: Reducing Additional Cost Burdens

6. Expand housing and energy transformation by accelerating the permitting process

The city could refine the permitting process by getting together the Permit Streamlining Task Force again for a more efficient process of constructing affordable housing. Energy-related permits are essential for their 100% renewable energy goal.

7. Reduce utility costs for residents through transparency and disclosure

The plan suggests a Residential Energy Conservation Ordinance (RECO) that will provide renters and buyers with information regarding energy efficiency and utility costs of the unit in order to make decisions that weigh long-term factors of maintenance costs.

8. Increase housing affordability by reducing parking requirements

Parking spaces are expensive to build and maintain over time and add to the cost that renters and buyers spend on their units. To decrease the cost of parking spaces, the Land Use Ordinance will be revised and contemplate strategies like shared parking, parking maximums for certain land uses, and creating a Transportation Management Program for property managers to give new mobility alternatives to their tenants rather than parking spots.

For more information regarding goals for the climate crisis, you can find the full document here.