Kakaako needs more housing for workers
In 1982, some of Hawaii's most talented business and community minds, led by Kenneth Brown, put forth a vision for Kakaako redevelopment, the culmination of several years of community planning. The plan was to transform a blighted area of downtown Honolulu into a vibrant neighborhood where residents could "live, work and play."
Unfortunately, in the quarter-century since then, only two of those three goals have been met. Kakaako is a great place to work and play, but few can afford to live there.
Despite all the grand plans, Kakaako is a microcosm of one of the major problems in our state. The government has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into infrastructure improvements, including a park where a city incinerator and dump once stood, expanded roadways and utilities, even a new state-of-the-art medical school. The once-dreary warehouse district now boasts open green spaces, inviting shops, restaurants, offices and beautiful luxury apartments. What it does not have is housing for the workforce that was to have been the essential human element of a revitalized community.
Two companion bills are moving through the Legislature, bills that require 25 percent of the floor area of any planned residential, commercial, industrial or resort development be reserved for workforce housing. Previously, developers were required to set aside only 20 percent of the units in new residential projects. A lack of workforce housing has led many here to give up on the dream of owning their own home, led others to leave the islands for the mainland and painted a bleak future for our younger residents. It was a sad commentary on the current state of affairs when at last September's Hawaii 2050 Sustainability Summit, a panel of nine high-achieving students from both public and private high schools were asked if they thought they would live in Hawaii after graduation. Not one hand went up.
Workforce housing is a vital component of a strong, sustainable community. In a community that prides itself on the important local values of malama and aloha, we must seek out, through a combination of private and private-public partnerships, a balance between high-end development and housing that is affordable for the people of Hawaii's workforce. Central Pacific Bank is dedicated to that mission. During the past decade the bank has driven nine workforce-housing projects with three others currently under way -- two in Waipahu and one in Salt Lake. The role of community groups and advocates is also extremely important as we strive for smart, responsible development.
Our legislators are taking the right, albeit controversial step in seeking higher set-asides for workforce housing in the future redevelopment of Kakaako. The problem of insufficient housing for the people who make this state work is far too important to ignore, be it in Kakaako or Kailua-Kona.
Blenn Fujimoto is vice chairman of the Hawaii market for Central Pacific Bank.