State Rep. Kaniela Ing has introduced a bill that would create a rent control pilot project in the islands.
"Simply put, rent is too damn high," said Ing, whose district covers South Maui. "Local people are struggling to make ends meet. They are being squeezed out. Rent control is proven to allow young folks to save up to buy homes, and prevent kupuna on fixed incomes from becoming homeless."
Ing's proposal would have rent control as a pilot project in five house districts around the state. Landlords would be allowed to charge no more than 30 percent of the median income of those areas.
"Most financial advisers would say do not spend more than 30 percent of your income on your housing. That's the only way that it can be affordable. So that's what this bill is based on," said Ing. "Landlords cannot charge more than that."
A recent study ranked Honolulu 99th out of 100 metro areas in the U.S. for rental affordability. In Hawaii, experts say most residents are spending 50 percent of their take home pay on housing.
Ing said the measure is modeled after similar rent control rules in other jurisdictions with high housing costs.
Some real estate experts are skeptical about rent control, saying it could discourage landlords and actually reduce the amount of affordable housing.
"Why should I rent? I'll just sell it and let somebody else do it, and that might help, but it might not help," said real estate analyst Stephany Sofos.
Others say rent control could work, but only if rents are allowed to go up.
"The mechanism of rent control is how you let rents rise, and will you allow them to rise commensurately with costs?" asked Rick Cassiday, another real estate market analyst.
House Bill 1267 will be heard by the Housing Committee Thursday at the state Capitol.