Updated playbook needed for affordable housing solutions
Is the lack of basic affordable housing for our residents in Maui County at the crisis level today? No matter who you talk to, the resounding answer is yes. Houseless working families or multiple families bundled up in housing meant for one family is not new, but it is getting worse. The housing crisis is a complicated issue and it doesn’t help that we are using the same playbook.
We are generally told of two options for housing. Needed housing can be created by the government or by private developers. For government-created housing, we have historical data on past projects to know what doesn’t work. For developer-created housing, developers like Paul Cheng of the Pulelehua West Maui project are few and far between. Having to cajole, beg and/or intimidate the financial risk-takers is an unfortunate state of affairs.
However, there is and always has been a third option for housing, and that is the small private landowner. Every ohana/cottage/dwelling built for rental or family adds to the housing inventory.
The county recently passed laws that help, allowing housing units on lots below 7,500 square feet and increasing the sizes and quantities of accessory dwellings. That is commendable, but I suspect these changes will not vastly increase the housing inventory quickly.
We may also need to examine related factors that hinder their potential. Cost or laws such as the expense of water meters, fixture count rules, lack of water in the Upcountry region, lack of historical building codes for old towns, and one-size-fits-all water department and Fire Department standards are hindrances.
Also, there are existing laws that should have been amended years ago. As an example, the 2005 state Legislature passed Act 205. It tasked the counties to identify lands that could be added to the rural district. Specifically, the law stated “priority shall be placed on the reclassification of lands that are already subdivided and developed for non-agricultural uses.” The fact that state rural districts are already included in our Accessory Dwelling standards could also add to our housing inventory.
There are existing laws like Ordinance No. 4255, Existing Streets. The bill to amend this ordinance is currently before the County Council and, if approved as suggested, would remove the opportunity to add to our housing inventory.
There are current trends like tiny homes that truly need vetting and a decision. Is it a dwelling, a trailer or both? And, who has jurisdiction over its existence? Is there an opportunity for permanent or temporary sites for dwellings on wheels?
There are out-of-the-box concepts that could be vetted. Allowing a kauhale (traditional Hawaiian village) concept with a modern take is one idea. Hale Noho would house families, hale kuke is where the food is prepared, and other structures would be built for storage or activities. This concept could be initiated on kuleana lands still occupied by lineal descendants as a start of something that spreads to other specific lands.
With any new legislation at the council, maybe this question should be a requirement: “Does passage or denial help or hinder creating more housing inventory, and if a hindrance, why can’t we live with it?”
So, how do we start? First, by admitting we have a crisis and it is of our own making. Secondly, don’t play the blame game. Thirdly, stop the us-versus-them mentality. Lastly, accept the fact that we are not a one-size-fits-all community.
It’s OK to have gated communities. It’s OK that multiple family homes exist. A person raised comfortably in a one-family unit will have a different perspective from someone raised in a multiple-family environment. A person raised with a small family will have a different perspective from someone like me, who was raised with seven other siblings in a very small two-bedroom house with one bathroom on Molokai Homestead land.
So, instead of a piecemeal and reactionary approach to our housing crisis, why not a comprehensive look at all existing laws and potential new laws to add housing inventory. We the community, along with government leadership, can create an updated playbook, which will include achievable short-term and long-term solutions. Your thoughts?
* Robert L. Horcajo, principal broker of Live Maui Real Estate LLC, has been a licensed Realtor on Maui since 1976.