Affordable Housing

Discussion Leader: John Kawamoto

Recorder: Matthew Geyer

The discussion leader on affordable housing was John Kawamoto, a legislative analyst and longtime member of Faith Action (FACE). He advocates on behalf of affordable housing and laws & policies that promote the common good, the public interest, and the well-being of the poor and vulnerable before local and state government and in local media.

Modern Hawaii has always had a higher cost of living, especially for housing. But decades of reduced housing development has resulted in a growing shortage of affordable housing for working families. Too many households have to cut back on food, health care, and other necessities to afford housing. So many others are functionally houseless: living out of their car, in and out of shelters, camping in parks, or temporarily staying with friends or extended family. The major increase in unemployment, reduced work hours, and loss of income as a result of the economic effects of the COVID19 pandemic has made finding and staying in affordable housing even more challenging.

So the answer is simply to build more affordable housing, right? It’s never that simple. Land is expensive, zoning is increasingly restrictive, and Hawaii is striving to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions. Building thousands of single-family homes further and further away from employment centers runs counter to our need to live more sustainably and respond effectively to the challenges of climate change.

The traditional alternative, public housing, has gotten a bad reputation in the US, often due to our own lack of care for the quality and upkeep of these places for those who most need them. In Europe, there are many examples of “social housing,” public-owned or regulated housing for a diversity of households and income levels. Quality, artistry, and amenities are much higher to attract and keep this diversity of people. Buildings are multi-use, providing shops for food, health care, child care, and other basic needs for households and especially working families. And planning is participatory throughout the process as opposed to offering already completed plans for public comment and government approval.

In Hawaii, such housing can be integrated into the other themes of our Leaps of Faith event. Housing in urban to rural areas needs to be integrated within larger plans for resiliency and sustainability. This means blending housing with space for parks, businesses, schools, and government offices to provide local goods and services and reduce the need to drive. Houses need to be built to the highest efficiency standards and to support community-scale renewable energy systems. Housing and surrounding communities should integrate local-scale food production, including urban agriculture, as well as food processing and storage, and avoid displacing productive agricultural land. In Hawaii, housing needs to accommodate multiple generations and extended families. Finally, housing and the surrounding community infrastructure should provide opportunities for those with the knowledge and skills needed to build resilient, self-sufficient communities. All of this needs to be undertaken through participatory planning, engaging the community from the beginning to envision, plan, build, and support the kinds of housing needed to achieve all these goals.

And as with the other themes for our Leaps of Faith event, faith communities are important to achieving affordable housing in Hawaii. Faith Action is a well-established non-profit made up of churches and faith leaders advocating for all aspects of affordable housing. Family Promise is a church-based shelter program for working families that often serves immigrant Pacific Island families. And churches and their outreach missions have provided shelter and relief for families who have been temporarily evacuated or lost their homes due to natural disasters.

The interconnection of the themes of Leaps of Faith can provide new connections and opportunities for faith communities to support and promote affordable housing. Housing is one essential need of all people, and our Leaps of Faith event illustrated how other essential needs - such as food, resilient communities, and holistic restoration of people and places - should be part of the effort to create more and more types of affordable housing. Core values such as diversity and integration, connection to people and place, sustainability and justice should be part of what we build into affordable housing. Faith communities can give strong spiritual and moral voices to this vision and these diverse but interconnected needs and purposes for affordable housing.

Vision: Housing in Hawaii will be redesigned to be more affordable, attract a diversity of income levels, reduce the need to drive for essential goods and services, support the dignity of all Hawaii’s residents, support Hawaii’s transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions, and be integrated into communities that are resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Contributions of people and communities of faith:

  • Promote a spirit of aloha in our communities as we address Hawaii’s affordable housing along with other needs

  • Emphasize the ethics of compassion, justice, equality, and fraternity from our diverse faith traditions as we work together on these challenges

  • Emphasize the morality and shared values of providing affordable housing to support the dignity of people and the resiliency of communities

Partners in this effort:

  • A diversity of organizations working toward sustainability and resiliency that understand and support affordable housing

  • Faith communities need to participate in the planning process and advocate for sustainable and affordable housing and resilient communities

  • Housing developers need to commit not just to affordable housing but participatory planning and supporting all aspects of resilient communities

  • Financial institutions are needed to support these efforts and innovative financing options are needed to attract the capital needed

  • Early-adopter communities eager to demonstrate the benefits of this approach

  • Policy-makers and legislators to develop supportive policies, regulations, incentives, and support for this effort