Honolulu Star Advertiser Column: Dems, rise up for affordable housing by Michael Markrich

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By Michael Markrich July 12, 2020

No one much mentions Gov.John Burns and the legendary Democrats of the 1960s

anymore. Democrats of today have more important concerns, such as climate change,

defeating President Donald Trump and getting elected. The difference between the

politicians of that era and today is that the earlier generation of Dems felt they had an

obligation to serve everyone — not just the loud and the influential.

In June, nearly 400 appeared at a Kailua Neighborhood Board meeting willing to risk

their lives in the cramped recreation center, for a threat they deemed greater than a life-

threatening pandemic: affordable housing for young families, single mothers and the


They were responding to a project by the affordable housing company Ahe Group. The

attendance spilled out into adjoining buildings because some local Facebook pages had

stirred up community resistance.

According to the latest U.S. Census data for Kailua, some 2,500 people in a community

of 12,500 households live in poverty. Is 73 more rental units, as the project proposes,

really so many more to provide for? Even if one questions the size of the project — as I

initially did — don’t lower-income people have a right to live here?

Yes, say some Democrats — but “not here, not now.” They ask: “Couldn’t there be

fewer, maybe someplace else?” And what about the parking?” Local Democratic

candidates spin cartwheels to avoid offending. They want to talk about education, solar

panels and green sea turtles. Not people with critical unmet needs.

The problem in Kailua reflects the moral dilemma that the Democratic Party of Hawaii


Fighting a national culture war about the George Floyd tragedy in far-off Minnesota is

easy. Providing basic services in Hawaii that don’t just help the special-interest groups

that pay for local political campaigns is more difficult.

Democrats can live with vacation rentals — each now a potential vector bringing the

prospect of serious illness from visitors to long-time neighbors in the heart of residential

areas. But showing empathy to the less-fortunate at home — through real rather than

symbolic action — is another story. We should call this what it really is: social

discrimination based on income. Twenty years ago, Native Hawaiians and others lived

in low-income housing across from the Kailua baseball field. Since then, that land has

been turned into luxury condos. The affordable units have never been replaced. It is

modern-day red-lining — a practice that shames us all.

In the 1960s, Burns and his fellow Democrats had backbones — what they once called

“spine” — and weren’t afraid to stand up in a real way for unpopular causes like

affordable housing. I believe the new generation of Democrats also have this piece of

anatomy. They are just not yet accustomed to using it.


Michael Markrich is owner of Kailuabased Markrich Research and a freelance writer.


Copyright (c)2020 Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Edition 7/12/2020