Time for Action, Mayor Bissen
News Release from Housing Hawaii’s Future, September 25, 2023
Mayor Bissen has a tough job.
Since the fires on Maui, he’s been under constant scrutiny.
And public criticism has been fierce.
Bissen has issued four emergency proclamations since August 8.
The most recent suspends county laws including Title 16 (Building Code) and Title 19 (Zoning).
Emergency Powers Activated
Emergency proclamations are a powerful tool.
They suspend laws that slow down the disaster response.
Theoretically, Bissen’s proclamation makes it easier to build housing for displaced families.
But there are a couple problems…
First, it’s not clear how housing providers can apply for exemptions under the emergency proclamation.
Second, when the proclamation ends, housing must either (1) be removed within 90 days or (2) obtain approval under existing State, Federal and County laws.
In other words, anything goes right now, sort of…
…but whatever you build either must comply with all existing laws or must be removed when the emergency ends.
And this creates uncertainty.
The “hoteling” phase of disaster response is ending, and displaced families should be moving into “intermediate” housing options.
But nobody knows when the emergency will end except the Mayor.
So builders of intermediate housing are shackled by all the laws that made it impossible to build affordable housing on Maui before the fires.
For example, Maui’s Title 19 (Zoning) hasn’t been updated since 1960!
As a consequence, many builders are sitting on the sidelines.
They want to build affordable housing, but it’s unclear what kinds of housing will be legal when the dust settles.
And this means Maui will lose more families as they struggle to find affordable housing.
HRS 46-15 to the Rescue
Fortunately, a solution exists: HRS 46-15.
HRS 46-15 governs “Experimental and demonstration housing projects.”
In short, the Mayor can designate areas of land for “experimental and demonstration” housing.
The county council must approve this designation.
After the designation, the mayor assigns a county agency or official to review any planned development in the area.
And demonstration and experimental housing projects are exempt from all laws.
Okay, not really.
But read this law, and let me know what you think:
Experimental and demonstration housing “shall be exempt from all statutes, ordinances, charter provisions, and rules or regulations of any governmental agency or public utility relating to planning, zoning, construction standards for subdivisions, development and improvement of land, and the construction and sale of homes thereon; provided that the experimental and demonstration housing projects shall not affect the safety standards or tariffs approved by the public utility commissions for such public utility.”
So we already have a state law on the books that empowers Maui’s Mayor to build affordable housing.
And it allows the Maui County Council to provide oversight.
And it doesn’t require a constant state of emergency.
Does that sound like it’s worth a try?
If so, please forward this email to a friend on Maui.
(Especially if your friend works for the Mayor!)
Housing Hawaii’s Future