Topic of a Honolulu summit: How to solve Hawaii’s housing crisis

Published: Sep. 22, 2019 at 5:06 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - For years, it’s been said that there’s been an affordable housing crisis on Oahu.

But an accountability summit on affordable housing tried to underscore that the crisis is more than just words -- that it’s real.

“I think now is really the time, everybody’s focused on it” said Keith Webster, co-chair of Faith Action Housing Now. “The crisis is worse than it’s ever been, and so now we’re coming together."

The grassroots organization Faith Action for Community Equity brought private organizations, government officials, developers, the public and others to focus on the housing crisis.

“You can see it with the homeless on the streets,” said Webster. “But where you don’t see it is all of the people who are barely able to afford or are crowded into housing."

The summit drew a crowd that completely filled the Arts Auditorium at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

“This means that everyone is acknowledging that this is a very serious crisis that we are now in, and having this many people coming together saying you know what, we’ve had enough," said Honolulu City Councilwoman Kymberly Pine.

The summit comes at a time when many higher-priced housing units have been built, with Hawaii seen as an international market.

“So our real estate prices, our real estate rents, are no longer tied to the local market, local income, local employment. They’re tied to what mainland people will pay, what Asian buyers will pay,” said veteran developer Peter Savio.

According to a recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, 40-hour a week workers would have to earn an average of almost $37 an hour to comfortably afford a two-bedroom home in Hawaii.

“The people who that are making, you know, $75,000 and less, are having a hard time finding housing. It’s what they can afford, right? So it doesn’t take up their whole paycheck," said Webster. “That’s what we want to build.”

The latest city budget includes money for more affordable housing. There are also bigger tax breaks for developers of affordable housing on smaller properties. And more affordable rental units are being built on Oahu. But organizers and others say more still needs to be done.

“What we need to recognize is that this is a big, big big issue,” said Peter Ho, Chairman and CEO of Bank of Hawaii. “It’s not just about housing. It’s about the prosperity and the effectiveness of our community as a whole.”

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