President Joe Biden presented his infrastructure deal as a good compromise – a rare example of Republicans, who wanted $ 570 billion, and Democrats, who wanted $ 2.7 trillion, agreeing on a piece of land. $ 1.2 trillion deal.

However, there was no intermediate expenditure for housing. There was nothing – no increase in funding for Native Hawaiian housing, no money to update Mayor Wright or other public housing, no rental vouchers and no funds to build housing. affordable essentials.

In the original proposal, Democrats wanted $ 213 billion in housing, which would have secured affordable housing for thousands of Hawaiian households and rebuilt affordable homes built 30 years ago. It was completely erased from the compromise bill.

Instead, the bipartisan agreement funds roads and bridges but not housing. It won’t make Hawaii more affordable or prevent residents from leaving the state. It will not reverse the four-year trend of a declining population. In fact, it could start the construction of thousands of unaffordable investment properties while creating very little affordable housing.

Funding infrastructure without housing support will not solve the housing crisis. When the public pays for housing infrastructure – roads, sewers and utilities – but does not invest in the housing itself, we mostly end up with private homes being sold to the highest bidder, not affordable homes.

An unfortunate example of this is Kakaako. In the 1980s and 1990s, nearly $ 100 million of public funds were invested in sewers and other utilities. This enabled developers to build nearly 10,000 homes.

Public funding helped build 400 affordable rental units, but the rest of the units did not receive government funding. Instead, developers were required to provide affordable housing in exchange for development rights.

View of Kakaako from Manoa showing the Honolulu skyline with the same height limit.
The construction in Kakaako is an example of an attempt to invest in affordable housing which in fact resulted in the exclusion of many locals from the market. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

As it was not publicly funded, around 75% of the remaining housing units built in Kakaako were sold on the private market without any restrictions on price or affordability. Of the remaining 25% that had price restrictions and were to be sold to local residents, most only maintained those requirements for two to five years.

As a result, over 1,100 homes are no longer required to be sold at affordable prices to local residents. The combination of insufficient initial affordable housing and short periods of affordability means that today over 85% of homes in Kakaako have no restrictions on price or who can buy it.

As a result, house prices continue to break records even as unemployment is high and wages are lagging behind.

Time and money spent

Additionally, most of these unrestricted homes are held as investment property, not primary residences, meaning owners can visit multiple times a year or perhaps rent to income tenants. raised. And the rent doesn’t come cheap – ranging from $ 2,400 to $ 3,400 per month for a two-bedroom.

Considering the state has invested $ 100 million of our money and spent decades planning and preparing the neighborhood for residential development, the fact that five out of six homes are unaffordable at local wages is totally unacceptable.

Everyone deserves a place to call home and our public funds must match our public priorities.

It is not just the time and money spent, but the lost opportunity of having thousands of affordable housing units close to jobs and downtown Honolulu that is particularly tragic. If we all contribute our tax dollars for the roads and utilities that make housing possible, then shouldn’t we be building housing to meet all of our needs? Federal investments in housing not only keep prices affordable, but also ensure that housing is for local residents, not real estate investors.

We don’t have to repeat Kakaako’s mistakes – we can learn from them and do better.

The current bipartite agreement on infrastructure is not enough. We need to pass a bill with significant investments in housing or our current crisis will only get worse.

We urge our delegation to Congress to put as much money in the rooftops above our heads as the pavement under our feet. We believe that everyone deserves a place to call home and that our public funds should match our public priorities.

Editor’s Note: This community voice was written with assistance from Faith Action for Community Equity, Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Hawaii Appleseed, Hawaii Alliance for Community Based Economic Development, Hawaii Community Assets, Kokua Kalihi Valley, Mai Movement Hawaii, Neighborhood Place of Puna , Partners in Care and at St. Elisabeth’s Episcopal Church.