Affordable Housing in Hawaii: Government Programs and Subsidies

Welcome to the Existing Housing Division of the Hawaii County Office of Housing and Community Development. Housing assistance programs maximize the use of the existing housing stock in Hawaii County (Big Island) by offering low-income households greater opportunities for rental assistance and self-sufficiency programs. Everyone agrees that Hawaii needs more affordable housing. Local developer Stanford Carr, who has built homes in Maui, the Island of Hawaii, and O'ahu, says the Maui policy basically “paralyzed the county's housing industry until it was changed”.

For decades, local governments have required developers to provide affordable housing in their new projects. Approximately 4,200 of the nearly 12,600 housing units built in Kaka'ako are affordable for residents with an IMU of 140% or less. The counties of Honolulu, Kaua'i, and Hawaii, in addition to two state agencies, have their own inclusive policies with different requirements governing how much housing should be affordable in a project, who can live in it, how long it should remain affordable, and for how much it can be sold or rented. Philip Garboden, professor of affordable housing at UH, says that inclusive zoning has become more popular over the past 20 years, especially in cities with high rents and high costs.

In general, housing is considered affordable when households pay no more than 30% of their income in housing expenses. Policies determined that inclusive zoning tended to increase the market price of housing and decrease the number of housing units available. While the ordinance was in effect, affordable housing was still being built on Kaua'i, but through other mechanisms. This redevelopment project not only addresses the urgent need for affordable housing in Hawaii, but it also serves as a model for other states in the country facing similar challenges.

Units for sale must remain affordable for 25 years and rentals must remain affordable for the life of the unit. The developers are co-chairs of the Hawaii Business Roundtable Housing Committee and work with various housing industry groups, as well as with the four county mayors and their housing directors, and the chairmen of the state housing committees of the Senate and House of Representatives. The demand for housing is still much greater than it has been generated, but Iseri-Matsubara says the law has succeeded in producing more affordable housing. The Ka Lei Momi redevelopment project will address the pressing need for more affordable housing options for Hawaii residents, providing both ownership and rental opportunities.

Nadine Nakamura, chair of the state House Housing Committee, says her committee is working with different government agencies to identify the main subsidies that developers need to build housing for the various income groups on the housing scale, as well as the subsidies needed to keep people in them, such as assistance renting very low and extremely low income units. Affordable housing developers and advocates often talk about the “housing ladder”, a term that refers to the different levels of housing that people will generally need and can afford as they move through the stages of their lives. If you are looking for more information about government programs and subsidies related to affordable housing in your area of Hawaii, you should start by contacting your local county office of Housing and Community Development. They will be able to provide you with information about available programs and subsidies that may be applicable to your situation.

Additionally, you can contact local developers who have experience building affordable housing, as well as professors at UH who specialize in this area. Finally, you can reach out to your state representatives who are working on initiatives related to affordable housing. Finding out more information about government programs and subsidies related to affordable housing in your area of Hawaii is an important step towards ensuring that you have access to safe and secure living conditions. By taking advantage of available resources and reaching out to local experts you can make sure that you are informed about all available options.

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