By Rev. Sam Domingo, Joseph “JP” Newmann and Kathy Jaycox
Tuesday, August 18th 2020 Honolulu Star Advisor
Kailua has an image of being composed predominantly of upper-income families. It is such a desirable place that, surely, only people in the upper-income brackets can afford to live there. Anyway, this is the image that many people have. But as Kailua residents, we know that this image is not completely valid. This image is cracking under the strain of Hawaii’s stagnant economy that depresses wages, while housing prices continue to climb. As a result, housing has become less and less affordable to more and more people — even Kailua residents. Most Kailua residents are doing well financially, but a sizable number are spending so much of their income for housing that they are considered to be “cost-burdened” by the federal government. That term is applied to those who spend more than 30% of their income on rent. These cost-burdened residents spend so much on rent that they are forced to reduce spending on other items in their family budget, such as health care, child care, clothes and food. Unexpected life events, such as losing a job, caring for a sick family member, or recovering from a car accident, will put them into financial jeopardy. Fortunately for some of these cost-burdened residents, an affordable rental housing project has been proposed for Kailua. Those who live or work in Kailua will be given preference for those apartments if they qualify. The Kawainui Affordable Apartments would be located immediately adjacent to the commercial district of Kailua, on the corner of Oneawa and Kawainui streets. There would be 73 apartments in a three-story and a four-story building, similar in height to other structures in the commercial district. Some 95% of the apartments in this project would be affordable to families earning from $36,150 a year to $72,300 a year. That is considerably below the median household income on Oahu of $85,000 a year. Rents would be based on income. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment, for example, would range from $598 a month to $1,412 a month. By comparison, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment on Oahu is $2,361 a month, according to Zillow. Working families would live in those apartments, and rents would be guaranteed to be affordable for 61 years. This is the only affordable housing project currently proposed for Kailua, but statistics show that Kailua needs many more like it. Within a half-mile radius of the project, about 60% of households are renters, and about 55% of those renters are cost-burdened. In addition, about 55% of households within that half-mile radius earn less than $75,000 a year. Recall that the median household income for Oahu is $85,000 a year, so families in this area of Kailua earn considerably less than those on Oahu as a whole. Furthermore, in the blocks immediately surrounding the project, between 18% and 31% of renters are “severely” cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than half their income on rent. Affordable housing is urgently needed in Kailua, especially since no affordable housing has been built there since 1992. The Kawainui Affordable Apartments represents a chance for 73 families to escape financial duress and live fuller, more productive lives. Society as a whole will benefit. But it’s not just Kailua that needs affordable housing. Tens of thousands of affordable housing units are needed statewide. All communities throughout Hawaii need affordable housing. The Kawainui Affordable Apartments is a modest project. It’s a relatively small step forward. But it represents the many steps that must be taken to effectively address Hawaii’s enormous shortage of affordable housing.
The Rev. Sam Domingo, Joseph “JP” Newmann and Kathy Jaycox are residents of Kailua.