The real monster is our housing crisis

I’ve been listening to naysayers in the housing debate and many of them seem to think monsters lurk behind every corner — monster homesmonster condos, even monster housing developments.

Yet, it turns out that much like the mythical monster under the bed and the monster in the closet, once you turn on the lights and take a good look, you find there’s nothing there.

Back when we could all agree on what a monster was, the term “monster home” generally referred to a large, often unsightly structure that violated county laws about setbacks, height restrictions and so on to seemingly use every possible inch of a standard residential lot.

After Hawaii’s counties started cracking down on these illegal dwellings, some people began using “monster home” to describe any house that pushes the limits of what is allowed.

Now we even are being warned about “monster lots,” which presumably are what we would see if Hawaii homeowners were allowed to build at least two “ohana” or accessory dwelling units on their properties — one more than is permitted by each county already — as proposed by two bills that are making their way through this year’s Legislature.

Those bills, SB3202 and HB1630, would not make any changes to county building standards, and they would not promote Frankenstein-like home construction. They would simply make it possible to build smaller, less expensive units on smaller lots.

Small homes on small lots are not monsters. More and more, it looks like the word “monster” is being used just to scare people or express the idea that “I don’t like this thing.”

If you think about it, SB3202 and HB1630 really are anti-“monster home” bills. After all, monster homes appeared in the first place because Hawaii’s zoning and building regulations prevent or make it very difficult for people to pursue reasonable expansion opportunities such as ohana units, duplexes, triplexes and smaller homes.

Facing such limited options, some property owners found out where they could blur the lines to build bigger instead.

At their core, these “ohana homes” bills would actually neutralize the threat of true monster homes by providing more homebuilding options.

They also would strengthen property rights by allowing existing homeowners owners to more freely adapt to the changing needs of Hawaii residents, many of whom desperately need affordable places to live.

If we really want to address Hawaii’s housing crisis, we have to explore options that could provide some relief — and we have to do it fearlessly, without regard to made-up monsters. Because the only real monster is the housing crisis itself.

This commentary was Keli‘i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for March 9, 2024. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

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