State scrambles to address worsening housing shortage

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is grappling with a major housing shortage and if something isn't done to close the gap soon, more residents will find themselves priced out, experts said Tuesday at a housing summit in Iwilei.

The experts estimate that Hawaii needs 65,000 to 80,000 new housing units by 2025 to keep up with demand.

"We need to increase the housing stock in the state of Hawaii," said Luis Salaveria, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism. "If not, we'll continue to see increasing median household prices which will continue to essentially squeeze out individual -- especially local residents -- from being able to afford a home."

Experts say an important part of the solution is less regulation and more infrastructure improvements to spur housing development at all price points. Officials say there is a lack of housing across the board -- from low-income rentals to high-end luxury homes.

Meanwhile, economists said Tuesday that while Hawaii's housing shortage isn't new, it's become more acute now that home prices have skyrocketed. In September, the median price for a single-family home on Oahu was $750,000.

"If we actually built enough houses to satisfy growth in population and existing shortfall, it would add 1 percent to our total jobs, 1 percent to our total income over the whole time period, so every year we'd have 1 percent more jobs than we would otherwise," said Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. "It's by no means a small issue."

Officials say transit-oriented development along the planned 20-mile rail route will be key.

"The opportunities are going to be tremendous," said developer Stanford Carr. "Forget about what the cost of the rail is going to be -- this infrastructure investment is going to be the economic stimulus to provide more diversity of housing and enterprise for the next 30 years."

The county and state have increased funding for affordable housing projects and worked with developers on regulations to streamline the process.

Gov. David Ige told summit attends that housing construction is a top priority for his administration -- and his own family. His three children all live and work on the mainland.

"Even if they were to find quality jobs here in Hawaii, would they be able to afford to live here?" he said. "And I think that's the challenge that all of us at parents think about and face each and every year. That's what motivates me -- it's not just a personal need but a need for the entire community."

Copyright 2016 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.