A movement to address the regulatory hurdles and community resistance that often stall development is gaining momentum as Hawaii faces an affordable housing crisis.
State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the establishment of a task force to develop a plan to reduce zoning and regulatory barriers to building more homes and increase publicity about the effort.
House Bill 1837, which would also require the group to submit annual reports to the legislature, has progressed and is expected to come before the conference committee sometime this week, where the legislature will seek to resolve their differences so that it can face a final vote.
“We want to be more collaborative, produce more reports, and come up with solution-based recommendations on how to move forward by implementing some of these ideas to help housing development,” said Rep. Troy Hashimoto, who introduced the bill.
“Yes In My Backyard Act”
If the law becomes law, Hawaii would join states like Oregon and California that have passed similar laws. The US Senate also introduced federal legislation last year that would pursue discriminatory land-use policies.
The debate in Hawaii has focused on the growing need for affordable housing as median home prices have surpassed $1 million.
While most agree on the need for development, project proposals often face opposition from local residents concerned about property values, increased traffic congestion or negative environmental impacts. Such objections have led to the nickname “Not In My Backyard” or NIMBY.
Hawaii also has the highest level of land use regulation in the country, according to a recent report by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.
The new body required by HB 1837, dubbed the Yes In My Backyard Act, would include representatives from state and provincial agencies such as the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, and county zoning boards.
In addition to drafting legislation, the group would be tasked with improving outreach and raising awareness of state and county efforts to break down barriers to affordable housing development.
That would address long-standing complaints from many communities that they have not received advance notice or adequate opportunity to weigh decisions about developments and housing projects.
review of regulations
Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permits opposed the measure, saying it has already taken steps to review land-use regulations, noting that the city recently passed rules for its multi-family rental housing program.
“Efforts are also being made to revamp the DPP website, making it more user-friendly and providing timely and transparent information on projects and initiatives under consideration,” DPP Director Dean Uchida said in a written statement.
Although state law provides a way for affordable housing projects to seek exemptions from county zoning ordinances, developers often face stiff opposition from the neighborhood.
The Hawaii Association of Realtors was a key supporter of the bill to increase the state’s housing stock.
“Everyone has the right to a home,” said the club’s president, Kelly Liberatore, in an interview.
She said community resistance is one of the biggest obstacles for developers.
“They can’t move on until they get full approval,” she said. “There are these groups that will complain or just resist very loudly that they don’t want these developments to happen in their backyard.”
In 2020, a Maili neighborhood group in West Oahu filed a lawsuit to stop construction of a 52-unit affordable rental project called Hale Makana O Maili.
The quoted group fears the complex is too large and will reduce property values in the area.
“The lawsuit almost torpedoed our project,” said Kali Watson, director of the nonprofit Hawaiian Community Development Board.
The 1st Circuit Court ruled in favor of the project, which was eventually completed with all units filled.
According to Watson, applying for an affordable housing exemption is an arduous task because the project requires scrutiny by multiple government agencies, including neighborhood authorities, which are advisory in nature but can have a major impact on city council decisions.
In another example, the owners of Manoa Chinese Cemetery face opposition from neighborhood residents to their proposal to build an affordable housing project for older adults.
A spate of local protests also prompted a developer to withdraw its application to build a 73-unit affordable housing complex in the affluent Kailua neighborhood the day before the Honolulu City Council’s scheduled vote.
Kailua Neighborhood Board Chairman Bill Hicks said the proposed complex was “the wrong project for the wrong place,” though he insisted residents support affordable housing in general.
“My fear is that this (bill) will be painted because anyone who is against affordable housing is doing it for selfish reasons, not in my backyard,” he said in an interview. “That’s a generalization that I think is unfair and certainly doesn’t apply to the situation in Kailua.”
“In Kailua, in my backyard, I would say yes,” he added. “Put affordable housing in my backyard as long as it’s in an area that’s not designated as residential.”
Laura Foote, executive director of national organization YIMBY Action, said opposition in the community, often homeowner-dominated, can have a knock-on effect.
“They have concerns and housing is not being approved, especially affordable housing,” she said.
She said the “ability to delay projects means you get that systemic effect when affordable housing developers are reluctant to offer affordable housing in more affluent, opportunity-rich neighborhoods.”
Several other measures to speed up development, including one that would have exempted affordable housing projects from the Environmental Impact Statement, died in the legislature.
Hashimoto expressed hope that both legislatures would overcome their differences and pass HB 1837.
“The mood is there,” he said. “I think the legislature’s view is that we need to continue having conversations with the counties, the state and even the federal government all in one place about what kind of solution we need to look at and continue to tweak from a policy perspective to push this affordable.” Living room.”