Maui needs affordable housing

The need for truly affordable housing is very real. As you drive around our communities, please take notice.

A growing theme is emerging in some of our neighborhoods. During the day, you may see one or two cars in each driveway or in front of each house. However, in the evening, at those same addresses, you may see five, seven or up to nine cars in front of a single house.

Some families enjoy this sort of living arrangement. It works well for them for several different reasons.

However, in many cases, families that are now living multigenerationally are doing so not out of desire but out of necessity in order to help mitigate the cost of housing.

We need to develop new and creative ways of dealing with the immediate statewide need of affordable housing.

According to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, 15,000 affordable housing units are needed to address the current demand, and an additional 35,000 homes will be needed to keep pace by the year 2016.

Although there are traditional means to help remedy this situation, innovative solutions are required to meaningfully reduce the demand and lessen the costs associated with building affordable units. Ultimately, the goal is to build more affordable homes quickly at a lower cost on Maui and across the state. Lowering the cost of production will therein reduce the cost of affordable housing itself. Also, it will facilitate expeditious, but responsible, building of this category of homes while maintaining the real market value for existing properties for current homeowners.

As vice chairman of the state House Committee on Housing, I am in the process of looking into promising options to truly address the issue. One of the initiatives the committee is considering is the possibility of micro-unit housing. Micro-unit construction offers the possibility of smaller brand-new homes for individuals and families. The final cost of these units is estimated to be roughly 50 percent less than current affordable housing prices.

We are also considering the concept of subsidizing infrastructure expenses associated with the development of single-family and low-rise condominium housing units. This can potentially further reduce costs per unit by 25 percent.

Other fresh approaches and creative solutions to address this need are also currently being explored.

We need to implement outside-the-box solutions as we move forward to help solve this challenge in our communities. The cost for building one affordable housing unit using traditional means is estimated to be approximately $400,000 per condo within a larger complex, which is the cheapest of traditional approaches. Of course, there are many variables that enter into this formula to derive actual costs. Estimates of building 15,000 units in the near future would then cost around $6 billion. That staggering price tag doesn’t include the cost of land needed to build.

Fresh approaches are needed now. There are viable potentials that we may be able to initiate over the next couple of years. Let us look into how we even define the word affordable, which is still not affordable for many as we consider these approaches together to fulfill the housing needs for ourselves and our families. The time is now to make significant progress on this growing issue.

* Rep. Justin Woodson, a Democrat, serves District 9 – Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills, Maui Lani – in the state House of Representatives.