Hawai‘i’s Affordable Housing Crisis

Hawaii Appleseed has released a report, “Hawai‘i’s Affordable Housing Crisis: The High Cost of Our Affordable Housing Shortfall,” that details the severity of Hawai‘i’s housing shortage and the financial strain it places on our working families, compiling the facts and figures that illustrate the dire housing situation facing Hawai‘i. To read the entire report, click here.

Housing is considered “affordable” when a household spends less than 30 percent of their income on shelter and utilities. Households that spend more are considered cost-burdened and are frequently forced to make difficult financial tradeoffs with other basic necessities. But securing affordable housing is a serious challenge for Hawai‘i’s low-income residents, who face the highest cost of shelter in the country. More than half of all renters do not live in affordable housing, while almost 80 percent of the state’s 30,556 extremely low-income households are paying more than half of their income in rent. Our lack of affordable housing also threatens our future: excessive housing costs are associated with poorer health indicators and cognitive functioning for children.

The relatively low wages earned by Hawai‘i’s renters compounds this shortage. Rent increases have outpaced both wage growth and inflation for years. The “housing wage” needed to afford a two bedroom apartment at fair market rent ($1,640/month) is $31.54. Meanwhile, the average wage of a renter is $13.86. On average, even professionals such as teachers, police officers, and construction workers do not earn Hawai‘i’s housing wage.

Today, for every 100 extremely low-income families, there are only 29 affordable units available, and these households face years-long waits for Section 8 vouchers or public housing. The present situation is dire, and the future is as well: Hawai‘i is projected to need nearly 30,000 new housing units by 2016 to meet demand; two-thirds of these units are needed for those who are considered low income or below. Yet little affordable housing, particularly rental units, is under development.

Hawai‘i’s acute homelessness crisis is one of the worst consequences of this affordable housing shortfall. We have the highest rate of homelessness among the states, with no decrease in sight. More than 13,000 individuals throughout the islands received homeless services in 2013—42 percent of whom were new clients. Thousands more households are at risk of homelessness or are part of “the hidden homeless,” forced to double up with other families out of economic necessity.

Key recommendations in the report include:

  • Increased government support and planning for affordable housing;
  • Adopting innovative models such as micro-apartments and accessory dwelling units;
  • Taking advantage of transit-oriented development and urban infill to maximize affordable housing creation; and
  • Expanding use of the Housing First approach to quickly help stabilize people experiencing chronic homelessness.

To read the full report, click here.
Click here to read more about our work with affordable housing in Hawaii.