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Hawaii’s governor signs housing legislation aimed at helping local residents stay on islands

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Governor Josh Green on Tuesday signed legislation aimed at jumpstarting construction of more housing to address an acute housing shortage that is pushing local residents to move to states where cost of living is lower.

The measures include requirements for provinces to allow at least two additional units on residential lots and to allow buildings in business districts to be redesigned so that people can live in them. Another measure would allow government bonds to finance 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,” Green said at a news conference before signing the bills. “This will restore some of the balance.”

Rep. Luke Evslin, a Democrat and chairman of the House Housing Committee, said the new laws would not solve Hawaii’s housing crisis overnight. But he said these were the most significant housing regulatory and zoning reforms the Legislature has implemented in more than four decades.

“There is overwhelming evidence that the more housing you build will lower the market price of housing or at least make a difference – slow the rate of increase,” Evslin said.

The bill requiring counties to allow more houses on residential lots met with significant resistance in the Legislature, with some lawmakers saying their constituents were concerned it would destroy their neighborhoods.

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

Evslin said the adaptive reuse law will lead to the revitalization of downtown areas and underutilized shopping centers and help people live close to work if they want.

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

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

Audrey Mcavoy, The Associated Press

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