Testimony: Bill 56 would help clear permit backlogs, get people back to work

To: Honolulu City Council
      Tommy Waters, Chair
      Esther Kia‘aina, Vice Chair

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


Comments Only

Dear Chair and Council Members:

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer comments on Bill 56 (2022), CD1, which would allow Honolulu County residents greater freedom to repair their homes without obtaining a building permit.

As the Council is aware, the Honolulu County Department of Planning and Permitting faces a backlog of more than 8,000 permits.

This year, on average, the DPP has taken more than 200 days to issue residential permits, and more than 500 days to issue commercial permits.[1]

Those numbers are staggering on their own, but they also represent a real human cost.

There is no way to quantify the harm this permit backlog has inflicted, but there is no doubt that fewer kitchens have been remodeled, fewer windows installed and fewer home projects in general initiated because of the delays.

For construction contractors and workers, the delays have meant a loss of business and a loss of jobs because their customers — businesses and homeowners — did not receive their building permits in a timely manner.

Making matters worse, the costs of the permit delays are being aggravated by snowballing inflation. Businesses and homeowners wanting to renovate their property have seen building material prices skyrocket this year, and labor costs have increased substantially, too.

That is why the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii welcomes Bill 56 as a way to speed up home renovations, make our economy more efficient and get people back to work.

As drafted, Bill 56 would remove the requirement that homeowners obtain permits for repairs costing more than $5,000 a year. This outdated, arbitrary figure unjustifiably limits homeowners’ private property rights and raises the time and cost to complete home repairs.

The $5,000 figure would be replaced by language allowing homeowners to do basic maintenance on their own homes without a permit.

Such maintenance would include projects “that involve only the replacement of component parts of existing work with similar materials for the purpose of maintenance, without limit as to valuation.”[2]

In real terms, that means Honolulu County residents could replace their flooring without having to wait 200 days and pay hundreds of dollars of fees for a permit.

Bill 56 would also make it easier to perform basic maintenance and repairs, such as fence repair, painting, countertop replacement and other “interior remodeling that does not affect building square footage or the number of bedrooms or bathrooms.”[3]

These reforms would all make it simpler for families to repair and renovate their homes.

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii believes this measure would be a good first step toward reforming Honolulu County’s beleaguered permitting process, restoring respect for private property rights and lowering the cost of owning a home.

We wish you all the best in seeing this bill to fruition.

If there is anything we can do to help you in your deliberations, please feel free to reach out to us.

Thank you for your consideration, and aloha.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Christina Jedra, “Efforts To Reform Honolulu’s Troubled Permitting Office Face An Uphill Battle. Here’s Why,” Honolulu Civil Beat, Oct. 23, 2022.

[2] HI Bill 56 (2022), CD1, p. 2.

[3] Ibid.

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