From the Field: Hawaii Advocates Release Report on Affordable Housing and Poverty

The Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice (Hawaii Appleseed) released a report on April 13 titled “The State of Poverty in Hawaii: How Hawaii’s Low Income Residents Are Faring Post-Recovery.” The report details the serious challenges, including the serious lack of affordable housing, faced by low income households throughout the state. This is the second State of Poverty report released by Hawaii Appleseed, and it reviews poverty trends since the original 2012 publication. The authors propose five state and local policy changes to reduce homelessness and address the shortage of affordable housing in Hawaii.

The State of Poverty report highlights the critical need for housing affordable for low income households in Hawaii, stating that there are only 3.6 affordable and available homes for every 10 extremely low income (ELI) renter households, those earning less than 30% of area median incomes. According to the report, 83% of ELI households are cost burdened, spending more than 30% of their income for rent. Housing scarcity has driven the rapid increase in homelessness in Hawaii, leading Governor David Ige (D) to declare a homelessness state of emergency in October of 2015 (see Memo, 11/9/15).

The report’s policy recommendations to reduce the affordable housing shortage include increased funding to Hawaii’s Rental Housing Revolving Fund, which provides grants and low interest loans to nonprofit and for-profit developers who build affordable rental housing with the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. The report also urges the state to expand support for Housing First programs, create a shallow rent subsidy program, and implement inclusionary zoning policies. The authors also encourage state officials and local communities to pursue innovative housing solutions like micro-units, adaptive reuse of existing buildings, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs).

Hawaii Appleseed released a manual for producing ADUs titled “Accessory Dwelling Unit Homeowners’ Handbook” on March 30. The manual was in response to the successful passage of an Oahu zoning ordinance allowing homeowners to create small apartments on their properties. Common examples of ADUs include repurposed guest houses, pool houses, and apartments above garages. The guide takes potential ADU providers through the process of obtaining permits, initiating construction, and becoming a responsible landlord. The handbook also reviews various considerations related to green, energy-efficient design to reduce utility costs.

The lack of affordable housing in Hawaii is exacerbated by persistent low incomes throughout the state. Hawaii Appleseed funded a “Study of Financial Struggles Facing Working Families in Hawaii,” conducted by Qmark Research and released on May 28, showing that 48% of Hawaii households describe their current financial situation as “paycheck to paycheck.” Twenty-five percent of survey respondents have worried in the past five years about how they would pay for their housing, and 95% indicated that the high cost of housing was a serious problem in their communities. The study has earned significant media attention.

For more information about Hawaii Appleseed’s reports on affordable housing and poverty, contact Hawaii Appleseed Co-Director Gavin Thornton at: [email protected].   

“The State of Poverty in Hawaii: How Hawaii’s Low Income Residents Are Faring Post-Recovery” is at:

“Accessory Dwelling Unit Homeowners’ Handbook” is at:

“Study of Financial Struggles Facing Working Families in Hawaii” is at: