New policy brief details cost-free ways Hawaii can increase its housing stock

This following is a news release that was issued December 13, 2023, by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii. 

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii urges lawmakers to prioritize zoning and other reforms because residents need homes now

HONOLULU, Dec. 13, 2023 >> The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii issued a new policy brief today that outlines how state and county lawmakers can facilitate more homebuilding at no cost to taxpayers.

The new brief, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” recommends greater use of upzoning, adaptive reuse, parking reform, accessory dwelling units, mixed-use zoning, by-right approvals and self-certification in permitting.

Keli‘i Akina, Grassroot president and CEO, said today the new policy brief “can serve as a roadmap for our lawmakers interested in getting serious about solving Hawaii’s acute housing crisis, which even Gov. Josh Green has deemed to be in a state of emergency.”

The brief, written by Grassroot policy researcher Jonathan Helton, explains that:

>> Upzoning would allow denser forms of housing, such as duplexes and triplexes, on plots previously zoned for only single-family homes. Elements of upzoning include building homes on smaller lots; splitting or subdividing lots; reducing setbacks, which mandate how far back a dwelling can be built from the front, side and sometimes back of a lot; and increasing floor area ratios, which govern how big a house is allowed to be in relation to the parcel of land it sits on.

>> Adaptive reuse of vacant office, retail and commercial buildings would be an energy-efficient, cost-effective way to boost housing stock while preserving historic buildings and maintaining the character of existing communities.

>> Parking reform would entail reducing or abolishing regulations on how many parking stalls homes and businesses must have, to free up land for housing.

>> Accessory dwelling units, originally intended for elderly family members, could address the broader public need for housing — if Hawaii’s counties would allow them to be built on smaller lots, waive certain fees on their construction, and remove restrictions pertaining to renting them out or where the landlords must reside.

>> Mixed-use zoning would allow both residential and commercial uses in the same building and on the same block, to promote walkable neighborhoods.

>> By-right approvals would allow projects to proceed automatically without discretionary approval from a neighborhood board, planning department, planning commission or county council.

>> Self-certification would allow architects, engineers and other professionals to self-approve building permits for certain projects.

Helton states in the brief that these proposed policies “do not comprise an exhaustive list, but rather are only a sampling of land-use, zoning and permitting changes that could reduce the state’s astronomical housing prices to help prospective Hawaii homeowners realize their goal of homeownership.”

Also, he says: “These needed changes will not happen overnight. The policymaking process takes time, as does constructing physical housing units. That’s why housing reform should be a priority. The sooner lawmakers act, the sooner housing in Hawaii can become more plentiful and less expensive.”

In the preface, Akina writes: “Adopting such changes has been proven around the world to facilitate the creation of more housing — at a lower cost for homebuyers and at no cost to taxpayers. That’s what I would call a win-win.”

He adds: “When it comes to housing, the best way to serve the people of Hawaii is to make it easier to build homes.”

Printed copies of the full-color brief are being distributed to state and county lawmakers. Printed copies also can be purchased from Amazon.com here. Digital copies can be downloaded for free from the Grassroot Institute website here.

For more information about Grassroot’s new policy brief, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” or to arrange an interview with Helton or Akina, please call Mark Coleman at 808-386-9047 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

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