Housing experts weigh in on affordable housing plan based on Singapore’s model

Updated: Nov. 6, 2019 at 4:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Sen. Stanley Chang wants to take a page from Singapore's public housing playbook and apply it to Hawaii's affordable housing shortage.

"Our housing crisis didn't arise overnight. It's not going to go away overnight," he said.

In May, Chang went to Singapore to see how that country houses 80% of its people in public housing, applying large government subsidies to developments and forced savings programs on its citizens.

"We can't adopt all those models," he said. "But the critical piece I think we must adopt is that they build enough supply to meet demand and sell it at an affordable price."

He envisions dense public housing developments on government-owned land like present public housing sites and along the rail line.

Units would have a median sales price of $300,000 and come with a 99-year lease.

Kevin Carney, of EAH Housing, has worked for decades managing low-income rentals. He admires Chang’s out-of-the-box thinking but believes his proposal faces an uphill struggle.

"When they say they're going to sell units for $300,000 in a condo project it's going to require a lot of financing subsidy-wise," he said.

At an all-day conference Wednesday, housing and building experts discussed the infrastructure needs of building large housing developments and how to reduce construction costs.

[Read more: State wants to build huge affordable housing projects with units on 99-year leases]

[Read more: Hong Kong’s affordable housing crisis makes Oahu look like paradise]

“If you can use state land that’s leased for 99 years at basically zero to a dollar a year, you’ve just eliminated the cost of land,” said David Freudenberger, founding partner of Goodwin Consulting Group.

Chang's plan permits owners to sell their units after five years, but they'd kick most of the profits back to the state.

"Seventy-five percent of all profits in all secondary trades would go back to the state, which could be used for maintenance, repairs, operations, landscaping, all of those things that cost big bucks," he said.

Chang calls his proposal the Aloha Homes Program. Expect more discussion on it and the Singapore model when the legislature is back in session.

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