Protecting Hawai‘i: Our Path Forward

Hawaiʻi’s homeless population is made up of different types of individuals with differing needs, and include recently aged out foster children, “working poor”, veterans, and persons suffering substance abuse and mental illness. Addressing the various challenges that may cause a person to be houseless requires both multi-pronged approaches and our commitment as a State to help support meaningful changes in the lives of those who need our collective Aloha.

As chair of the Honolulu City Council in 2019, Ikaika worked with the lieutenant governor to initiate the tiny-home kauhale (village) concept. Before 2019, the state struggled to implement this model. Ikaika stepped up to drive this first kauhale project, Hui Mahi‘ai ‘Aina, which opened in 2020 at Waimanalo and continues to thrive today. Kama‘oku Kalaeloa, which is based on this same concept, opened in November 2021. Another initiative is being planned in West Oʻahu.

The kauhale concept has proven to be successful. As Lieutenant Governor, Ikaika will build more kauhale across Hawaiʻi, in appropriate locations, community by community.

Once housing is established providing core stability, social services can be extended to help further recovery and transition into more permanent housing options.

Protecting access to affordable housing for our residents is vital. The State must clearly articulate its goals and expectations for the development of affordable housing at 60% area median income (AMI) or below, where the need is particularly acute, and then work with developers in both the profit and non-profit sectors to attain its objectives. The development of “workforce housing” should also be considered. Workforce Housing is defined as housing earning between 60 and 120 percent of AMI. Workforce housing targets middle-income workers and public employees which includes professions such as police officers, firefighters, teachers, health care workers, and others that are integral to a community but yet who often cannot afford to live in the communities in which they serve.
While it’s undeniable that Hawai‘i has a housing problem, what’s not being built is the type of housing most local residents can afford. The Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting reported in 2019 that the shortage of units for all area median income ranges was determined to be 8,930 for the fiscal year 2018, then 9,750 in 2019, an increase of 820 units, and that affordable housing units made up more than half of the shortage count.
Further, between 2006 and 2018, an estimated average of 55,000 people moved to Hawai‘i annually. In those years when in-migration exceeds outmigration, this increased demand. But even in more recent years, when the number of people leaving the islands exceeds the number moving in, this continued influx of new residents has exacerbated the problem of affordability, because so many people who make the decision to relocate to Hawai‘i tend to come from areas with better wages and lower housing costs. With far greater financial resources at their personal disposal, newcomers are frequently outbidding current local residents in nearly all housing categories. 
A resilient and revitalized economy requires stable and affordable housing for its residents and its workforce. Developing policies and strategies to deliver more affordable rental housing inventory will not only provide such stability for State residents but also reduces the individual and socio-economic costs associated with poverty and homelessness.
To protect access to affordable housing for our residents the State and counties should:
  • Review and update the definitions for affordable housing, particularly in the rental market, so that they are not rooted in market-based applications, e.g., how much a prospective tenant can possibly afford, but rather upon a region’s area median income, which tends to be a much more reliable indicator of affordability for residents. Further, steps must be taken to actively discourage discrimination by prospective landlords against renters approved for Section 8 assistance. 
  • Review existing inventory of underutilized State and county properties for potential use as sites for affordable rental housing, particularly in the City and County of Honolulu. Oftentimes, a project’s approval and sources of funding will rest upon the issue of site control. In that regard, the repurposing of underutilized City properties as sites for affordable housing development enjoys a distinct immediate advantage over proposed projects on private property. The City has leverage, and as an example, it can offer site control to a development entity on condition that a majority of apartment or condominium units be reserved for tenants at 60-80 AMI or below for no less than a period of 50 years. Further, the City can perhaps allow a developer in select circumstances to stretch out development costs over a period of time, rather than account for them upfront prior to breaking ground.
  • Consider alternative means of funding and building affordable housing units, such as a non-profit development corporation. For example, nonprofits can avail themselves of project funding through the federal New Markets Tax Credits program, which can fund approximately 30% of a project’s costs (and up to 39% in select circumstances), provided that at least 20% of said property’s income is subsequently derived from commercial and retail sales. 
  • Redevelop appropriate Department of Education properties as Work Force Housing. to support the building of “rentals for educators,” affordable rentals that teachers and DOE staff can live in while establishing the financial backbone to eventually buy a home. I would also like to explore this model to assist in supporting Hawai`i’s healthcare workforce, as well.
  • Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) Rental Units for Beneficiaries. DHHL should consider constructing buildings consisting of all rental units for beneficiaries to utilize while on the waiting list. Currently, tens of thousands of Native Hawaiians are on a homestead waiting list, who are likely competing in the mainstream market for affordable housing.

As Lieutenant Governor, Ikaika will establish a Responsible Climate Change Response initiative in the Lieutenant Governor's office, which includes elevating to implement the 2050 Sustainability plan.  The environmental lens of sustainability is about managing and protecting Hawaiʻi’s natural resources, ecosystems, and the climate.  It is about reducing our energy, carbon, and water consumption through targeted programs to meet the needs of Hawaii’s communities for current and future generations.  Sustainability uses technology, policies, and approaches to implement solutions into complicated social-technological-environmental systems. 

As the former Honolulu City Council Chair, Ikaika participated in the development of Ola – O‘ahu Resilience Strategy, to address the impact of climate change. Specific areas were identified to address infrastructure for better resilience against climate change and promoting leading-edge environmental practices for infrastructure. On a state-level, the 2050 Sustainability Plan maps out a climate and sustainability strategic action plan.   This plan seeks to protect watersheds, manage surrounding ocean areas, address invasive species, enhance food productions on our islands, and strives towards greater renewable energy use across Hawaiʻi. 

Now is the time to move forward in elevating the implementation of those plans, both in their short and long term goals. 

We all experienced the impact of the COVID shutdown of tourism to the islands in 2020. Shuttering our state was a necessary action that absolutely saved many lives at the cost of gutting our economy.  In many ways, it took us back a few decades to a slower, less crowded Hawai‘i, a  re-claimed Hawai‘i nei for our keiki and ohana.  In the wake of that window of a tourism-less Hawai‘i, we experienced a Hawai‘i that we now want to cultivate. A Hawai‘i that is not completely beholden to a corporate tourism industry that fails to respect and care for our residents.  A Hawai‘i that can take responsible steps back from our current over-dependence on mass over-tourism, while shifting our economy to other sustainable models and options.

Tourism is a critical component of Hawai‘i’s economy. However, tourism drains State and county infrastructure and services, creates incredible strains on the quality of lives for Hawai‘i’s residents, and fails to ensure an equitable balance amongst resident and visitor interests.  A December 2020 OmniTrak survey regarding tourism found that 67% of O‘ahu residents agreed with the statement that “the island is being run for tourists at the expense of local people.” (Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “Residents’ sentiment toward tourism has worsened”, December 21, 2020.)

To achieve that, the tourism industry in Hawai‘i requires vastly improved “destination management” across state and county agencies and the related private industries that focuses on coordination, responsibility, and enforcement. Regular and meaningful input from the community, business, environmental, and cultural organization must be prioritized and incorporated into the strategic management by Hawai‘i’s leaders. We need new approaches to controlling and protecting public attractions or recreational areas that are shared with tourists, but not at the price of abusing our collective Aloha. We seek authentic cultural respect by the industry for Native Hawaiians.

To protect Hawaii’s public resources and attractions the State and counties should:

  • Re-imagine the travel and hospitality industry as more diverse in its visitor portfolio, less reliant upon mass market tourism, and more respectful of local residents and culture.  Guiding the industry to redefine its role in visitor management, manage the growth and impacts of tourism in a manner that respects the Hawaiian culture, addresses concerns of local residents, offers our visitors a high-quality experience and enforcing tourism-related commercial activities.  This will include the growth of eco and volunteer-based tourism to the State.  Encourage limits on areas that experience over-tourism, such as Waipi‘o Valley on the Big Island, Hanauma Bay on O‘ahu, and Wainiha on Kaua‘i.
  • The State should host and facilitate a series of island-wide and statewide summits of stakeholders in the travel and hospitality industry, the State labor force, civic groups and community organizations, and State and county governments to discuss and address these pressing issues in a thoughtful and forthright manner, so that achievable solutions might be developed and proposed which benefit the State at large.
  • The State should encourage further diversification of the travel and hospitality industry itself by marketing more robustly to business and convention travelers, as a means to enhance the travel and hospitality industry’s own revenue stream and mitigate its current over-reliance on vacation and leisure travelers.
  • A vigorous effort should be made to market Honolulu’s geographic locale as a natural hub for representatives of the trans-Pacific corporate, governmental and related communities, and a place where executives and officials can meet and conduct business. (One possible benefit for local residents is that business travelers and conference attendees tend to be focused on their immediate tasks at hand, and are thus less inclined to stay at vacation rentals and / or roam residential neighborhoods.)
  • The travel and hospitality industry should promote Honolulu as a logical and important hub for annual gatherings for international banking and governmental forums, in part by highlighting the city’s past success at hosting numerous major conferences and forums such as APEC, the Asian Development Bank and other import-export banks, and similar organizations and trade councils.

The indictments of and guilty pleas by two long-standing elected officials should have been the impetus for swift changes in the Hawaiʻi State Capitol by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. Instead, defrauding the people of Hawaiʻi of honest and faithful service is going unanswered by the Hawaiʻi State Legislature. At the time, there was great fanfare about new proposals to respond to the black cloud of corruption hanging over the Capitol. As the session continued, it was suggested that they were quietly working to respond.  In the end, they passed NOTHING to change the corrupt culture of the Capitol. Incredibly, Hawaiʻi’s legislators justified keeping the status quo safe from any further political damage or losses.  Legislative leaders want the general public to trust that these two former legislators were anomalies and that the rest of the elected body is upstanding, trustworthy lawmakers of true integrity. 

Hawaiʻi’s legislative leaders knew it was time to change the Capitol. It should be clear that they simply lacked the courage.  More, they lacked the decency to do what was right for Hawaiʻi.  Change must come for this generation of voters and for decades to come. We are responsible to re-build a Capitol for the next generations that are foundationally more ethical, free of the burden of both the perception and risk of “pay to play” and protected from opportunistic influences. Without change, Hawaiʻi’s legislators’ core priority continues to only retain power and ensure re-election for decades. 

An elected official’s priority is providing the people of Hawaiʻi with trustworthy leadership in our government. As Lieutenant Governor, Ikaika will be this positive change for the Hawaiʻi State Capitol and will lead this change for Hawaiʻi.    

Ikaika’s first order of business will be to put the question of term limits to a constitutional amendment, so the people of Hawaiʻi can decide. 

Term limits apply to all elected offices in Hawaiʻi state and county elections, except for state legislators.  As a former City Councilmember of Honolulu and Chair of that Council, Ikaika has personally experienced term limits.  Term limits allow for new opportunities for new ideas from new people who want to serve the people of Hawaiʻi.  Except for the Hawaiʻi State Legislature, term limits are already firmly part of Hawaiʻi's political landscape.  Term limits for these offices have not led to a loss of institutional knowledge, a decline in collegiality or cooperation between members, nor an undercutting of leadership. Simply stated, term limits are good for Hawaiʻi politics.  Term limits should be championed as a positive step forward for Hawaiʻi to ensure greater accountability to each other as professionals, and more importantly, to Hawaiʻi’s constituents.  

As Lieutenant Governor, Ikaika will champion letting the people of Hawaiʻi decide on term limits for legislators via public discussion and ultimately, a constitutional amendment voted on by the people of Hawaiʻi.