Monday, July 20, 2015


Honolulu City Council Bill 20 does not create “affordable rentals”

by Larry Geller

Contrary to claims by its proponents, Honolulu City Council Bill 20 does not appear to create “affordable” housing units. Instead, it will likely create a larger pool of market-rate units.

Grab a copy for yourself at the link above and check it out. The bill is scheduled to be heard this Thursday by the Zoning and Permitting Committee.

There is no provision for control or regulation of the rent for the unit. The units will be of market size (400 sq. ft is about a one-bedroom, 800 sq. ft. is larger than the two-bedroom I’m now typing this from). Each has a full kitchen, etc., and comes with a parking space.

One of these so-called Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) could go for a higher rent than many units in town that, for example, require the owner to compete each day for limited street parking.

So while any additional housing units will add to the housing pool, these don’t sound like anything that should be described as “affordable.” At least not without qualifying the use of the word.

As to preventing them from becoming short-term vacation rentals, the city is already unable to regulate units now being illegally used in that manner. Kailua residents, as one example, have been complaining about illegal B&Bs for more than a decade.

Even with the language in the new bill, short term renters can simply be instructed to say that they have 6-month leases if questioned, or advised not to answer any questions at all. Piece of cake. The bill does not require that renters report anything, or in fact that they even speak English. So expect B&Bs, it’s that simple.

Sure, if a neighbor complains and videotapes different cars parked in front, a complaint could be filed, but since it would be a complaint against a neighbor (who could later key your car, for example), that may be unlikely or rare.

And as to the existing “ohana” units, they are easily be rented out—at market rates or slightly below. When we first moved to Hawaii and rented a house, at about the time we moved in construction began on an “ohana” unit behind the garage. It was rented out as soon as it was completed. When an inspection was due, the owner’s representative would take out the kitchen appliances before the inspector showed up and put it back after he left. That appears to have been common practice at the time, and perhaps still is.

There will be no need to take out the stove in these new ADUs. So they should rent for even more than the current “ohana” units.

Again, I see nothing in the bill or elsewhere to limit rentals to “affordable” rates. Bill 20 appears to be a gift to landowners, enabling them to gain some income through market-rate rentals. It won’t hurt (except for traffic impact) to have more homes, but let’s not say that they have anything to do with the need for affordable rentals, which has been at a crisis point for some time.


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