Testimony: Rural zoning change would help ease housing shortage

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration Feb. 23, 2022, by the Senate Committees on Ways and Means and Water and Land.

To: Senate Committee on Ways and Means
      Sen. Donovan M. Dela Cruz, Chair
      Sen. Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair

      Senate Committee on Water and Land
      Sen. Lorraine R. Inouye, Chair
      Sen. Gilbert S.C. Keith-Agaran, Vice Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
           Joe Kent, Executive Vice President


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on SB2922 SD1, which would authorize counties to adopt ordinances allowing up to one dwelling per quarter-acre in rural districts, provided that the ordinances are consistent with the county general plan and community development plan. 

We commend the Legislature for considering new ways to help address the state housing crisis. It is easy to focus solely on new building projects and overlook how useful it would be to remove zoning and land-use restrictions that hamper creative solutions to the lack of affordable housing.

Allowing for higher density by reducing the permitted acreage from one dwelling per one-half acre to one dwelling per one-quarter acre in rural districts would be a useful and creative approach to the state’s housing woes.

We do, however, have one suggestion that will help this bill achieve its goals:

Instead of a mandate requiring that each dwelling house “shall be consistent with the county general plan and community development plan,” we suggest that the plans be used in an advisory way. Thus, the word “shall” should be replaced and the section rewritten to say: “provided that each dwelling house is not clearly inconsistent with the county general plan and community development plan.”

Requiring that the proposed housing comply with both the general plan and community development plans (which do not necessarily have the force of law) could mire the growth of new housing in bureaucracy or make it vulnerable to “Not In My Backyard” planning trends.  

Moreover, this bill should be praised for advancing the possibility of reclassifying agricultural lands to the rural district via a study from the Office of Planning and Sustainable Development. This is an important first step to making more land available for housing and addressing the housing shortage in our state.

Too often, well-meaning land-use regulation and zoning laws frustrate efforts to increase the stock of available housing. The Grassroot Institute has issued several publications that analyze how zoning and other regulations throttle the growth of housing. 

One was our policy report “Reform the Hawaii LUC to encourage more housing,” which advocates giving the counties more authority to make decisions, thus reducing the amount of bureaucracy and preventing the state Land Use Commission from becoming a de facto state zoning commission. 

Another was “Build up or build out? How to make housing more affordable,” which recommends “increasing the area of urbanized land and building marketable densities outside of the existing urban footprint,” which currently is about only 5% of all land in the state. For example, an increase of only 1 or 2 percentage points in Hawaii’s urban-designated land would be equivalent to a 20% to 40% increase, respectively, in lands available for more housing.

In addition, the institute has made available a zoning-reform toolkit, “How to Build Affordable, Thriving Neighborhoods,” which explores different ways to increase housing supply and improve affordability by reforming state and local zoning restrictions. 

We summarized many proposals from the toolkit in a commentary published in The Maui News, ”50 ways — at least — to update Maui’s zoning code.”

By creating a statutory path to increase housing density in rural areas, as well as a study that could facilitate reclassification of lands from agricultural to the rural district, this bill would be a positive step toward addressing the state housing shortage.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


Joe Kent
Executive Vice President
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

Subscribe to our free newsletter!

Get updates on what we're doing to make Hawaii affordable for everyone.
Want more?

Get content like this delivered straight to your inbox. We’ll also send updates on what we’re doing to make Hawaii affordable for everyone.

Recent Posts