Allow more homes per lot to alleviate Maui housing crisis

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Maui Planning Commission on Feb. 27,2024.

Feb. 27, 9 a.m.
County of Maui Service Center
Suite 212A Conference Room

To: Maui Planning Commission
      Kellie Pali, Chair
      Kim Thayer, Vice-Chair

From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
           Jonathan Helton, Policy researcher


Aloha Chair Pali, Vice-Chair Thayer and other members of the Commission,

The Grassroot Institute appreciates the opportunity to comment on the Planning Director’s draft bill that proposes to increase the number of housing units that can be built in R-1, R-2 and R-3 zones across the county.

If this bill receives a positive recommendation from the Commission, it would go a long way toward increasing Maui’s housing supply and lowering housing costs. It would also allow existing homeowners to build wealth for themselves and their families.

Specifically, the bill would allow two houses and one accessory dwelling unit 6,000 square feet of lot area in R-1 districts, versus only one house and one ADU under the current code.

In R-2 districts, it would allow three dwellings and two ADUs on 7,500 square feet of lot area, versus only one house and two ADUs under the current code.

And in R-3 districts, the bill would allow four houses and two ADUs on lot areas of 10,000 square feet, versus only one house and two ADUs under the current code.

Table 1, reproduced from the Planning Director’s memo to the Commission,[1] shows the changes in greater detail:

As the Grassroot Institute pointed out in its recent report, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” legalizing more homes on the same lot is a powerful approach that many states and cities across the county have used to increase housing supply.

Those include Minneapolis, Minnesota; Houston, Texas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Columbus, Ohio, as well as the entire states of California and Montana.[2]  Auckland, New Zealand, is a good international example.[3]

All have “upzoned” their residential areas to allow greater housing density on lands already zoned for housing — and the research indicates these changes work.[4]

Maui, of course, had a severe housing shortage before the disastrous August 2023 wildfires[5] — and now the situation is even worse. This bill could provide much needed shelter to those displaced by the fires — and to those just looking to stay on Maui because of the higher rents associated with the post-fire housing crunch.

And the benefits wouldn’t be limited to a larger housing supply. Allowing homeowners to build new homes on their properties would give them the opportunity to build intergenerational wealth — or just provide a place where their children or other family members could afford to live and stay in Hawaii.

Focusing on “infill” development also would help solve two major concerns with new housing.

First, there might be more water and wastewater infrastructure available in existing residential areas.

Second, new housing built under this bill would not encroach on Maui’s rural and agricultural areas, which should please those who wish to “Keep the country country.”

Thank you for the opportunity to offer our comments.

Jonathan Helton
Policy researcher
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Kate Blystone, “Subject: A Bill For An Ordinance Amending Sections 19.08.020 And 19.08.040, Maui County Code, Relating To Density Within Residential Districts,” Memo to the Maui, Molokai and Lanai Planning Commissions, Feb. 21, 2024, p. 3.
[2] Laurel Wamsley, “The hottest trend in U.S. cities? Changing zoning rules to allow more housing,” NPR, Feb. 17, 2024.
[3] Ryan Greenaway-McGrevy, “Can Zoning Reform Reduce Housing Costs? Evidence from Rents in Auckland,” University of Auckland Business School, Economic Policy Centre Working Paper No. 016, June 2023.
[4] Christina Plerhoples Stacy, Christopher Davis, Yonah Freemark, Lydia Lo, Graham MacDonald, Vivian Zheng and Rolf Pendall, “Land-Use Reforms and Housing Costs,” Urban Institute, March 29, 2023; and Vicki Been, Ingrid Gould Ellen and Katherine M. O’Regan, “Supply Skepticism Revisited,” New York University Law and Economics Research Paper forthcoming, Nov. 10, 2023
[5] Janis Magin Meierdiercks, “Maui Is Hawai‘i’s Least Affordable County for Homeownership,” Hawaii Business Magazine, April 4, 2023.

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