Support chance to expand housing freedom

This year’s Fourth of July has come and gone, but I’m still thinking about how restrictions on our freedoms have caused so many of the problems we face in Hawaii today.

In particular, I’m concerned about how Hawaii’s severe restrictions on homebuilding have resulted in too few homes and some of the nation’s highest housing prices.

Gov. Josh Green focused the public eye on this issue a year ago when he issued his first housing emergency proclamation. He said Hawaii’s land-use, zoning and many other regulations have increased our cost of living, downgraded our standard of living and caused many of our friends, family and neighbors to move to the mainland in search of greater opportunities.

And yet, Gov. Green has said he intends to veto a bill passed by the 2024 Legislature that could help counter this awful situation.

That bill, HB1633, would let homeowners who build or improve structures on their own land lease those new residences to someone else within the first year. Right now, they may neither rent nor sell those structures within the first year. The Legislature rightly determined that the rental prohibition is an unnecessary barrier to getting more rental units to market more quickly.

The proposal wouldn’t apply to a whole lot of people, but that doesn’t mean it is any less important than some of the more broadly based bills the governor has signed this year.

Green’s rationale for vetoing HB1633 is primarily couched in terms of safety, suggesting that it could open the floodgates to unlicensed contractors building new housing for rent.

But safety isn’t really an issue here. The homeowner-builders would still have to conform to the same building codes; use licensed contractors for all work that requires licenses, such as plumbing and electrical; and get the same permits as everyone else.

My hope is that Gov. Green will change his mind about HB1633. He already has signed two bills passed by the Legislature aimed at tackling some of Hawaii’s more major housing regulations: SB3202, which requires the counties to allow at least two accessory dwelling units on all qualifying residential lots, and HB2090, which made it easier to convert office buildings into housing.

Letting HB1633 become law would align with the spirit of Gov. Green’s earlier bill-signings, as well as with his ongoing emergency housing proclamation.

Expanding our freedom in this case by providing more housing options would admittedly be a small step compared to other actions the governor has taken recently on behalf of more housing. But it still would be a step forward, and one worth celebrating, in keeping with the ideals we honor on the Fourth of July.

This commentary was Keli‘i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for July 6, 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.

[Editor’s note: The bill discussed in this July 6 column was vetoed by Gov. Josh Green on July 9.]

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