Could bolstering public preschool create more affordable housing? That’s the hope

Hawaii’s education system is moving on two major goals: Finding classrooms for thousands of new preschool children and building more housing.
Published: Dec. 21, 2022 at 4:36 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2022 at 7:27 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii’s education system is moving on two major goals: Finding classrooms for thousands of new preschool children and building more housing to attract and keep teachers.

Now, there’s an effort to fulfill both challenges ― in the same buildings.

There is $200 million already available to house Pre-K programs for the eventually universal preschool program. There are also hundreds of millions to subsidize affordable and workforce housing, especially teacher housing.

Ilima Intermediate teacher Sarah Milianta-Laffin, who lives in a condo on loan from a teacher on sabbatical, said teachers are constantly scrambling for housing.

“Especially at the beginning of the school year and the end of the school year, you see a lot of teacher Facebook groups,” she said. “Trying to help teachers find where you can stay at affordable rate.”

Gov. Josh Green has assigned both the teacher housing and preschool challenges to Lt. Gov. Sylvia Luke.

She and leading lawmakers see the possibility of a mash-up ... with multiple mixed use projects.

“If we are going to build preschools why not build workforce housing or teacher housing on top of that which is really exciting,” Luke told Hawaii News Now.

She cites the redeveloped of the Alder Street juvenile detention facility as a model.

The two-story dilapidated facility it brought in another developer to add high-rise workforce housing on the same block near Piikoi Street in Makiki.

“That’s the model that should be the norm when we build anything in state government,” Luke said.

The model uses less land, and efficiently uses both housing and educational funds so that both missions benefit. It also enables preschools to be built closer to where parents work.

“People prefer to have their preschoolers close to where they work,” Luke said. “So the DOE model of building schools where people live may not work for preschools,” she said.

The potential for mixed-use developments away from school campuses was the reason lawmakers established a new School Facilities Authority, Luke said.

As the former chair of the House Finance Committee, she was involved in that decision.

As for teachers, highrise apartments might not work for all ― but would be a great start, Sarah Milianta-Laffin said.

“We’re not one size fits all, you know,” she said. “What a public school teacher needs at a different part of their career might make it more functional for them to be in that type of living.”