Hawaii also should enact a ‘Yes in God’s backyard’ bill

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the House Committees on Housing and Water and Land on Feb. 7, 2024.

Feb. 7, 2024, 8:30 a.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 430 and Videoconference

To: House Committee on Housing
      Luke Evslin, Chair
      Micah Aiu, Vice-Chair

 To: House Committee on Water and Land
        Linda Ichiyama, Chair
        Mahina Poepoe, Vice-Chair

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


Aloha Chairs Evslin and Ichiyama, Vice-Chairs Aiu and Poepoe, and members of the Committees,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its support for HB2212, which would allow religious institutions, medical facilities and schools to build housing on their land by-right, subject to certain conditions.

We commend the Legislature for looking to increase Hawaii’s housing supply through zoning reform. As we discussed in a recent report, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” zoning reform can play a pivotal role in lowering housing prices and providing certainty to builders.

In the report, we considered by-right approvals, which “refer to projects that can proceed automatically without discretionary approval from a neighborhood board, planning department, planning commission or county council.”[1]

By-right approvals do not allow unrestricted development; instead, they set up rules beforehand — such as on densities and uses — and let proceed any project that complies with those rules.

Because many nonprofits have limited access to financing and little expertise in managing the development process, uncertainty in the approval process can stop charitable housing projects before they begin.[2]

To help solve this problem, HB2212 proposes a creative approach pioneered last year by California. The Golden State’s “Yes in God’s backyard” law allowed certain religious and educational institutions to build housing on lands they own, subject to some affordability and density restrictions.

That law is already creating housing. For example, the Episcopal Church’s Los Angeles Diocese is planning to build affordable housing on a quarter of its more than 130 campuses in the region.[3]

In Hawaii, allowing schools, hospitals and religious institutions to create housing on their own properties would help them with their recruitment and retention issues[4] by enabling them to more easily provide affordable housing for their employees.

Nonprofit institutions that had been prevented from creating housing for their own staff would be able to offer a convenient on-campus housing benefit, thereby freeing up housing elsewhere throughout the islands for other homebuyers.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Jonathan Helton, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, p. 16.
[2]Hayashi on a mission to help Hawaii churches provide housing,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Nov. 15, 2023.
[3] Lynette Wilson, “Los Angeles diocese set to develop affordable housing on 25% of church-owned land,” Episcopal News Service, Oct. 18, 2023.
[4] Allyson Blair, “On Hawaii Island, a desperate request to house traveling nurses key to patient care,” Hawaii News Now, Feb. 21, 2023.


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