Mixed-use housing bill deserves ‘strong support’

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration on March 19, 2024, by the Senate Committee on Government Operations and Senate Committee on Water and Land.

March 19,  2024, 3:10 p.m.
Hawaii State Capitol
Conference Room 225 and Videoconference

To: Senate Committee on Government Operations
      Sen. Angus L.K. McKelvey, Chair
      Sen. Mike Gabbard, Vice-Chair

      Senate Committee on Water and Land
      Sen. Lorraine R. Inouye, Chair
      Sen. Brandon J.C. Elefante, Vice-Chair

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


Aloha Chairs McKelvey and Inouye, Vice-Chairs Gabbard and Elefante, and other members of the committees,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its strong support for HB2090 HD1, which would direct the counties to allow for residential uses in all areas zoned for commercial use — except areas under the authority of the Hawaiʻi Community Development Authority — starting no later than Jan. 1, 2026.

It also would allow for the construction of “micro units” with a minimum size of 220 square feet, as well as, quote, “allow for adaptive reuse to meet the interior environment requirements of the International Building Code; and provide for an exemption to any requirements regarding additional off-street parking or park dedication; provided that the building’s floor area, height, and setbacks do not change as a result of adaptive reuse,” unquote.

Together, these changes would boost Hawaii’s housing stock and foster the creation of vibrant, walkable communities, as discussed in the Grassroot Institute’s recent policy report, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii.”[1]

Our report recommended that Hawaii’s counties allow “residential uses in all existing business-related zones,” and that “such residential uses should not be limited to either the ground floor or floors above the ground floor; all floors should be available for use as dwelling units.”[2]

This bill currently would allow the counties to limit residential use in converted commercial buildings to only floors above the ground floor. Nevertheless, this bill would be a major step toward recognizing the economic and social value that mixed-use neighborhoods can have on our local communities.

In the brief, Grassroot discussed how it was common prior to the advent of the automobile to find buildings with both commercial and residential uses in the same neighborhoods.[3]

“It was normal for watchmakers, bakers, lawyers and all sorts of other business people to live in the same buildings in which they worked,” the report said. “Their stores or offices were usually on the bottom floors, and their living quarters were typically on the floor or floors above or in an apartment in back.”

Economically speaking, it makes sense to build more housing in urban areas because water and wastewater infrastructure is usually already present. It also is sometimes cheaper to convert a commercial building to housing than it is to start a structure from scratch.

From a social standpoint, research indicates that mixed-use buildings save people money on transportation and promote walking, which can lead to many health benefits. Just as important, they give people a variety of lifestyles to choose from when deciding where to live.

Our policy brief also noted the success that Los Angeles has had with its adaptive reuse ordinance, which it authorized in 1999.[4] As stated in brief, the LA ordinance:

>> Allowed buildings to change uses from commercial to residential “by right” — that is, automatically – without going before a council or commission where the project could be voted up or down.

>> Exempted adaptive reuse projects from California Environmental Quality Act review.

>> Relaxed parking and loading-space mandates.

>> Allowed one-story rooftop additions automatically.

>> And added a new building code section to specify requirements for adaptive reuse projects.

These policy changes enabled builders to bypass regulations that would have held up their efforts to create new housing or otherwise find new uses for existing buildings — and have led to the construction of 12,000 units in the city’s downtown area since the ordinance was enacted.

I  hope all this information will encourage you to approve HB2090 HD1.

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, December 2023.
[2] Ibid, p. 16.
[3] Jonathan Helton, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, December 2023, p. 15.
[4] Ibid, pp. 8-10.

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