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Hawaii governor signs housing legislation aimed at helping local residents stay in islands

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HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. Josh Green on Tuesday signed legislation meant to jumpstart the construction of more dwellings to address an acute housing shortage that is pushing local-born residents to move to states where the cost of living is less.

The measures include requirements for the counties to allow at least two additional units on residential lots and allow business district buildings to be reconfigured for people to live in. Another would allow state bonds to fund housing infrastructure.

Green, a Democrat, said Hawaii has a shortage of teachers, nurses, firefighters and other workers because they can’t afford housing.

“There are some fundamental imbalances that are out there,” Green said at a news conference before he signed the bills. “This will restore some balance.”

Rep. Luke Evslin, a Democrat and the chairperson of the House Housing Committee, said the new laws wouldn’t solve Hawaii’s housing crisis overnight. But he said they were the most important housing regulatory and zoning reform the Legislature has passed in more than 40 years.

“There’s overwhelming evidence that the more housing you build, that that will drive down the market price of housing or at least make a difference — slow down the rate of increase,” Evslin said.

The bill requiring counties to allow more houses on residential lots encountered significant resistance at the Legislature, with some lawmakers saying their constituents were worried it would ruin their neighborhoods.

Sen. Stanley Chang, a Democrat and chairperson of the Senate Housing Committee, said under the new law, counties would retain the power to establish minimum lot sizes and control permits for infrastructure connections.

Evslin said the adaptive reuse bill will lead to the revitalization of downtown areas and underused malls and would help people live near their jobs if they choose.

A report by the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization published last week found that 56% of households in the state were “rent-burdened,” or spent more than 30% of their income on rent, last year. More than a quarter of households spent more than half their income on rent.

The report also found only one in five Hawaii households could afford a mortgage on a median-priced single-family home.

By AUDREY McAVOY
Associated Press

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