Group plugs tiny homes as housing solution

HONOLULU (AP) – Advocates in Honolulu are proposing that Hawaii rejigger its ohana housing regulations so the tiny homes might address the state’s urgent housing shortage.

The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice has released a report on how the homes could expand affordable housing. Ohana homes are the traditional name in Hawaii for accessory dwelling units, or smaller homes built onto houses or as standalone units in single-family lots.

Victor Geminiani, executive director of the nonprofit, said that counties need to get creative to address a housing shortfall estimated at 19,000 affordable units in the next two years. While ordinances allowing for ohana homes have been around since 1982, he said, they will need to be changed if counties are to build more cheap living spaces in existing yards.

Honolulu County presently allows two attached units on a 7,500-square-foot lot and two detached units on a 10,000-square-foot lot, Geminiani said. Relaxing those restrictions, or revising parking requirements would allow for greater density, he said.

“There is no answer out there except ingenuity and finding a way to harness the energy and economics of private landowners,” Geminiani said.

The report finds that the cost of shelter in Hawaii is double the national average, and that rents in the state increased by 45 percent between 2005 and 2011. It blames expensive housing in part for Hawaii having a high rate of homelessness.

The nonprofit is working with City Councilman Ron Menor’s office on a resolution to study issues around building more accessory dwelling units.

“In order to effectively tackle this (affordable housing) issue, it’s going to take a multifaceted approach, and in that regard I believe that accessory dwelling units could be one tool in helping the city to develop more affordable housing in the future,” Menor said.