Stable housing provides the foundation for thriving families and communities. In the 50 years since Hawaii first declared a housing crisis in 1970, that foundation has continuously been eroded.
Hawaii has the highest housing costs relative to local wages in the nation, with growing gaps between income and rent costs leading to some of the nation’s highest rates of homelessness and out-migration.
This does harm to both our people and our economy. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Finland, in recent decades, has virtually eliminated street homelessness called “sleeping rough,” and reduced housing costs for all its residents at the same time.
The success of the Finnish housing model is due to a national level strategy where the state government provides financial subsidies for both the supply side (construction of homes) and the demand side (renter or homebuyer assistance) and the counties provide land for affordable housing in exchange for infrastructure funding and other land use support.
Currently, government financed homes make up 21% of Helsinki’s housing stock, although the goal for new neighborhoods is 30% affordable rentals, 20% affordable for sale with limited equity, and 50% private market housing not financed by the public.
By contrast, today only about 7% of Hawaii’s housing stock is price restricted due to initial public investments. The remaining 93% of homes are for rent (or sale) at market price and are not required to provide any public benefits.
Chronic disinvestment in housing by the public sector means too much of our housing is unaffordable at local wages. To shift this imbalance, the public sector — and by extension the general public — must play a larger role in housing policy discussions.
The Homelessness Awareness and Housing Solutions series of events last week created an opportunity to do just that.
To help lay out a vision for what greater public investment in housing could look like, this multi-county series featured experts in housing finance and development from Finland, along with two leaders within the Sámi community (the indigenous people of far northern Europe) to lift up the voice of indigenous peoples in connection with a “people first” approach to housing policy.
Underpinning Finland’s strategy is the foundational belief that every person should have access to housing as a human right. It’s a belief that has deep roots in Hawaii as well, though our actions in recent decades have failed to live up to this value.
While conference events took inspiration from what’s been done elsewhere, they also focused on Hawaii’s strengths and potential. The events included talks on the history of Hawaii’s land use; promoting indigenous values as housing solutions; listening to the stories of people with lived experience of houselessness; revenue sources for affordable housing and more.
Most importantly, the series provided participants an opportunity to get further involved in the advancement of affordable housing for Hawaii and its people. Residents who want to help make Hawaii more affordable and end homelessness should consider joining the Hawaii Housing Affordability Coalition at www.HiHAC.org.
As Blossom Feiteira, a long time housing advocate, said at the close of the conference: “No one organization can do it alone. It takes many hands to clean the kalo patch, to plant, to harvest and to maintain. Let’s move this kuleana to the next level and get our people to the places they deserve to be.”
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