A questionable paradox exists for affordable housing

When it comes to a discussion of affordable housing in Hawaii, there is a glaring paradox. Those people who decry the shortage of affordable housing – be it for ownership or for rent, which contributes to the high cost of living in Hawaii – at the same time prevent the development of additional affordable housing.

Those same people who are concerned about the high cost of housing in Hawaii seem to throw up every roadblock possible to thwart efforts that would otherwise increase the supply of affordable housing units. Government itself, which seems to lead the cry for more affordable housing units, imposes a labyrinth of permitting and zoning requirements that impede the development of those affordable housing units. For example, one nonprofit organization that does nothing but develop affordable housing waited 7 1/2 years to secure all the necessary permits and zoning changes before it could put its first shovel in the ground. And when it went to the top to accelerate the process after waiting 2 1/2 years, the bureaucrats denounced the nonprofit as wanting special treatment, a point the nonprofit clarified as being accorded special treatment under the state’s affordable housing statute, HRS chapter 201H.

Then there are those concerned citizens who want to get those homeless campers off of their neighborhood’s sidewalks but are not ready to accept a shelter in their backyard. Get the homeless out of their backyards but just make sure they are not allowed in “my neighborhood.” Otherwise known as NIMBY (Not in My Backyard) syndrome, these folks have identified the problem but they want the solution undertaken some place else than in their neighborhood. And while they want the problem solved, they sure don’t want to pay for the solution. Unfortunately, the solution will cost all taxpayers something if it is to be solved.

Then there are those well-meaning folks who believe that more affordable housing is needed but feel like they got into the promised land and now want to close the gates behind them. An example of this syndrome is the folks in Kakaako or West and Central Oahu, where they have their own affordable housing but don’t want any more families to join them because those new units will create traffic nightmares and overcrowding of public facilities such as schools and parks.

Recently a spate of proposals to build new high-rise projects in Kakaako set off protests from residents in neighboring projects saying these proposed projects are going to ruin the neighborhood, create traffic congestion, bring overcrowding and block the views of existing projects. The elected representatives of the district joined with their constituents to raise concerns and opposition to some of these proposed projects.

However, no one seemed to point out that these proposed high rises would create the affordable housing that families sorely need, as state law requires the developers of new projects to set aside units as affordable for first-time homebuyers.

The other point that seemed to be missed in all of this rancor is the fact that the development of new housing means adding value to the real property tax rolls, not to mention the economic activity that would create jobs and, therefore, state tax revenues on income earned by the workers on the project as well as the money that they would then spend in the economy.

If the residents of some of these adjacent properties believe that they will lose that priceless view from their apartments or have to suffer traffic congestion, then perhaps the real property assessor has been undervaluing their homes that have those priceless views and currently little traffic around their condominiums.

Speaking of traffic, that is one of the major arguments folks in Central and Leeward Oahu make about further development in that area. Is this argument of traffic congestion an indication that the proposed rail system is not going to work and, therefore, additional development should not occur? If, in fact, the proposed rail system is on track to be up and running within this decade, then by the time the new developments come on line much of the imagined traffic congestion should be relieved by the proposed mass transit system.

Finally, the most important issue that stands in the way of creating more affordable housing is: If not here or there, then where will that housing be built? If not in Kakaako or Central Oahu, shall we put up a high-rise on the Windward side up against the Koolau Mountains? If the public and its elected officials continue to oppose reasonable development of housing, then certainly Hawaii is doomed to have little, if any, affordable housing.

* Lowell L. Kalapa is president of the Tax Foundation of Hawaii.