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INCREASING URBAN DENSITY FOR NEW HOUSING

This essay is the last of a six-part series. The HousingNOW! Task Force will be reviewing the housing opinion survey distributed to Faith Action members in May 2021. This series is intended to equip members with more knowledge before the next legislative session.


An overwhelming majority of Faith Action members favor building new housing on land that is already urbanized instead of building it on agricultural land.


Hawaii needs 50,000 new housing units by 2024, according to a study by the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation. These housing units can be built on land that is already urbanized by increasing housing density, or the new housing can be built on land that is now designated for agriculture.


The idea of building housing on agricultural land on Oahu has proven to be a failure. For decades, large housing developments have been approved for land that was previously designated as agricultural. Tens of thousands of homes were built in West Oahu and Central Oahu. The result is horrendous traffic on H-1 during rush hour that is among the worst in the nation.


People who live in these areas are spending so much time commuting that it disrupts their quality of life and limits their time with family. The rail won’t reduce traffic because it has a relatively small capacity compared with the large numbers of people who commute by car. Furthermore, the traffic is going to get even worse because the large Hoopili development is being built the Ewa plain.


Hoopili will consist of thousands of houses on 1,600 acres, most of which was once used to grow sugar cane. More recently, that land has been used to grow fruits and vegetables for Oahu residents. It is among the best agricultural land in the state, but agriculture is being squeezed out, and houses will be built there. Many more Hoopili residents who commute to town for work will take their cars than will take the rail.


We need more agricultural production, not less, especially since there is a growing realization that Hawaii must increase its food security. Currently about 85% of our food is imported. Food is constantly being shipped to Hawaii, and there are only one or two weeks worth of food in the islands for people to eat at any particular time.


Our food supply is vulnerable to natural disasters, labor strikes, and other factors here and on the mainland that can affect transportation. We are overly dependent on imported food. Efforts to expand farming should be intensified to make more use of Oahu’s agricultural land.


Another reason for increasing density on urbanized land is that it reduces the cost per unit of housing. Land is a major driver of the cost of housing in Hawaii. Building more houses on any particular piece of land reduces the cost per square foot of housing.


In addition, denser housing is more environmentally sustainable. Less infrastructure is needed because houses are closer together. Also, since more people live closer to their workplace, they use less energy to commute. Furthermore, if housing is built close to commercial uses such as stores, restaurants, and other urban amenities, people can walk or bike instead of taking their cars.


We must build more housing for Hawaii’s residents, particularly for low- and moderate-income families. The need for affordable housing has grown because housing has become less and less affordable. Wages have stagnated for decades, while the cost of housing has risen relentlessly.


As a result, more than half of Hawaii’s households do not have enough income to cover all of the basic necessities of life, according to an Aloha United Way study. They have to decide what they will do without. A reduction in housing costs will enable to spend more money on other necessities, which will improve their quality of life.


The traditional methods of building affordable housing have proven to be insufficient. Faith Action’s Housing Now! task force is committed to developing new methods to supplement those existing efforts so that all of the affordable housing needed by the people of Hawaii will be built


This essay was authored by Faith Action HousingNOW! member John Kawamoto. If you are interested in being more involved with the HousingNOW! Task Force, please e-mail housing@faithactionhawaii.org.

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