Testimony: New language sabotages land-use bill

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration March 22, 2022, by the House Committees on Water and Land and Government Operations.

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

      Senate Committee on Government Operations
      Sen. Sharon Y. Moriwaki, Chair
      Sen. Donovan M. Dela Cruz, Vice Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Committee Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its comments on HB1840 HD2, which would change existing restrictions on the authority of the counties to amend district boundaries.

Under this bill, county decision-making officials would be permitted to amend district boundaries for certain land areas greater than 15 acres, but not more than 50 acres, subject to the review and approval of the Land Use Commission, which may impose additional restrictions  for approval.

In addition, the county must have adopted an ordinance that includes certain enforcement provisions and limitations on land use, such as that the amendment be consistent with the community development plan.

Moreover, at least 60% of the development must be dedicated to the development of so-called affordable housing.

In raising the acreage cutoff to 50 acres, HB1840 HD2 would make an important stride toward streamlining the decision-making process and encouraging the growth of the housing pool in our state.

However, the bill includes unnecessary limitations which will frustrate the bill’s intent to streamline the development of affordable housing.

For example, adding the requirement that such approvals be subject to a final decision of the state Land Use Commission functionally negates the expedited approval process. In fact, it could add to the red tape and delay faced by developers, especially as the bill gives the LUC permission to pile on even more restrictions and requirements for approval.

Additional barriers to development are created through the restrictions named in the mandatory county ordinance as well as the requirement that 60% of the land be dedicated to the development of affordable housing. Known as “inclusionary zoning,” this high-percentage set-aside for affordable housing will make such projects financially unfeasible.

A large body of research shows that inclusionary zoning makes housing less affordable, since developers respond to such mandates by building fewer homes.[1] To make matters worse, the mandates force developers to raise the prices of their market-rate homes to make up for the so-called affordable homes.

Our research using the “Inclusionary Housing Calculator” developed by Grounded Solutions Network shows that in housing markets like Maui that have a 50% inclusionary zoning requirement, it is nearly impossible to make a profit building housing without a government subsidy.[2] As the requirement goes up to 60% and more, it becomes even less feasible to build new housing.

For example, according to the calculator, a low-rise apartment project with 30 units costing
$18 million would incur a net loss of $7 million, if built in an area with an affordable housing requirement of 50%.[3]

As noted by economist Carl Bonham at the Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii, inclusionary zoning “reduces incentives for developers to produce all forms of housing, and will reduce the overall supply of housing units and increase the price of housing.”[4]

A 2004 study by the Reason Foundation found that inclusionary zoning led to reduced housing growth in the San Francisco Bay Area region.[5]

While well-intentioned, the inclusionary zoning requirement and other limitations may frustrate the intent of the bill by creating another regulatory roadblock to the increase of the housing supply.

Fortunately, there are ways to encourage the growth of affordable housing that would not hobble development before it even begins.

Regarding this bill, we urge you to remove the 60% requirement. Beyond that, focus on reforming the state Land Use Commission and streamlining the development process.

This bill attempts to address one of the root causes of the state’s housing crisis: the excess of regulation and bureaucracy that can delay and frustrate development. Unfortunately, it only succeeds in adding to that bureaucracy.

A Grassroot Institute report on the problem, “Reform the Hawaii LUC to encourage more housing,” discussed how state policymakers could encourage the growth of housing by reexamining the role and purpose of the LUC.

The report included two recommendations that relate directly to the intent of the original bill: raising the acreage cutoff for LUC review of district boundary amendment requests, and allowing the counties to handle all DBAs for urban and agricultural lands, leaving the LUC free to focus on statewide environmental issues and DBAs of conservation lands.

Enacting bill HB1840 HD2 without the unnecessary limitations would go part of the way toward achieving those recommendations.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit our comments.


Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Tom Means, Edward Stringham and Edward Lopez, “Below-Market Housing Mandates as Takings: Measuring their Impact,” The Independence Institute, November 2007; “Inclusionary Zoning: Implications for Oahu’s Housing Market,” The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii, Feb. 12, 2010; “How land-use regulation undermines affordable housing,” Mercatus Research, November 2015; Paul Kupiec and Edward Pinto, “The high cost of ‘affordable housing’ mandates,” The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 12, 2018; Benjamin Powell and Edward Stringham, “Housing supply and affordability,” Reason Foundation, April 1, 2004; and “Inclusionary zoning primer,” National Association of Home Builders, August 2019.

[2]Inclusionary Housing Calculator 2.0,” Grounded Solutions Network, 2019.

[3] Project Summary,” Grounded Solutions Network, accessed Feb. 9, 2021.

[4] Carl Bonham, “The Unintended Consequences of Affordable Housing Policy,” The Economic Research Organization at the University of Hawaii, Sept. 8, 2013.

[5] Benjamin Powell and Edward Stringham, “Housing supply and affordability,” Reason Foundation, April 1, 2004.

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