- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii housing officials are reminding lawmakers that low-income families need more affordable housing.

There are 84,000 families in Hawaii that are struggling to house themselves, said Ricky Cassiday, who conducted a housing study for the state, at a legislative hearing Tuesday.

Second homes and investor units are eating up 10 to 40 percent of the housing stock, depending on the island, and the military absorbs another 10 to 15 percent of the housing, he said. But if those units became available, they wouldn’t necessarily help the right people, he said.

“Empty units on base or near Kailua Beach won’t be occupied by a local family making an income under 80 percent of the median income,” Cassiday said.

The Department of Hawaiian Homelands broke ground on more than 450 lots statewide in the past two years, said Jobie Masagatani, the department’s director. Its’ program to help Native Hawaiians with land and housing has a wait list of around 26,000 people, although some on the list aren’t ready for housing immediately because they’re too young or because they’re planning to retire on the lands, she said.

“The biggest concern for me is our kupuna who are on our waiting list,” said Masagatani, using the Hawaiian word for elderly people.

The list is for people who want to use lands for homes, farming or pasture.

“From our very beginning, when (Prince) Kuhio worked on the passage of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act, the idea was to return our population to the land,” Masagatani said.

Honolulu housing director Jun Yang said he wants to encourage “ohana” or in-law units, to allow families to create more room in the homes on their existing properties. He encouraged lawmakers to increase the affordable housing stock and to reduce the requirements to qualify for low-income housing.

“We’ve done a great job for a select few families over the past 30 to 40 years, but in supply we have to go a lot further,” Yang said.

Rep. Jo Jordan, D-Waianae, wasn’t convinced about Yang’s ohana unit plan.

“I just have some concerns, because that creates higher density on smaller lots,” Jordan said.

Sen. Gil Riviere, D-Wailua, asked whether Yang’s department would conduct a study on possible impacts of expanding ohana units. “On-street parking could be a nightmare,” Riviere said.

On Hawaii’s Big Island, housing officials are considering building micro-units made from shipping containers. They’re planning to get seven shipping containers that are each 40 feet long and divide each into four units, said housing administrator Stephen Arnett. Those units would be set aside for people with mental health or other problems, he said.

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