Facing Up To Our Housing Crisis

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - July 19, 2006
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My wife and I bought our home in the Pacific Palisades subdivision of Pearl City in August 1976. Like many folks getting into Hawaii’s housing market, we didn’t do it on our own. My in-laws and my wife’s auntie had purchased the home as an investment. We bought out the auntie, and the in-laws gave us their share. The whole thing cost us $76,000.

Had I spent one night in the house, I wouldn’t have bought it - it’s on Komo Mai Drive, Palisades, only ingress and egress, and the traffic noise can be awful.

And like most of Hawaii’s track homes of a certain vintage, it isn’t much of a house: single-wall construction, tiny bedrooms, tiny bathrooms, a postage stamp lot, and just like every other house on the street.

But we’ve now lived in this unloved house for 30 years, reared two kids in it, refinanced it once and borrowed against its equity to educate those two expensive kids, and one or both of us will probably die in the back bedroom of the miserable place.

Homes such as ours in Pacific Palisades are now priced at $550,000 to $625,000. Yep. You read that correctly: $550,000 to $625,000.

This is Pacific Palisades in Pearl City, understand - not East Honolulu or Kailua. These are 40-year-old homes, at least - not the brand, spanking new construction out in Kapolei or in Ko Olina.

In those parts of town, you’re talking $999,000 to $1.5 million, and a half-a-million in Makakilo, Kapolei or Ewa Beach. In those last choice spots, of course, you are granted the privilege of bumper-to-bumper traffic to and from work every morning - up to an hour’s worth of it.

“So what’s new?” you ask. “Hawaii’s always had a high cost of living.”

Not this high.

And when you combine the high cost of housing with $3.27 per gallon gasoline, more expensive appliances, furniture, take-out meals, whateva’caused by that high cost of gasoline, you have a crisis.

In a recent Advertiser poll, respondents listed the price of housing as the second most important issue facing the community.

I’d argue it is the most important.I run into it everywhere.

Drive the Waianae Coast. Stop at a park or two. They belong to the homeless - as often as not, the working homeless. Minimum wages plus a couple of bucks won’t get you a rental unit anywhere on Oahu today, and it goes without saying they won’t produce the down payment on a home.

Or talk to any school principal who’s hired young teachers straight out of a Mainland college of education. They arrive bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and delighted to be in Hawaii. Two or three years later they’re gone. Hawaii’s high cost of housing has driven them away.

But let’s say you have a federal job that pays reasonably well, that your wife has a few years in as a teacher with the Department of Education, that your parents are able to give you a little help. As likely as not, you still can’t afford to buy something to call your own. Instead, you’re drawing up plans to build a second story on top of Mama’s and Papa’s place.

I recently spoke to an elected official about Hawaii’s high cost of housing, a politician high enough up on the political food chain to be able to do something about it. My politician shrugged it off.

“Hawaii’s an attractive place to live for people from around the world,” he said. “Housing here will always be expensive.”

That won’t do. It’s the old whatever-the-market-will-bear argument, and its ultimate end will be a Hawaii of the world’s rich housed in veritable mansions while those who serve them occupy shacks and shanties - or live in pup tents on the beach.

That’s how it’s done in many other attractive places around the globe. And we may well be on the verge of it here.

But I hope that across the state this campaign season no candidate for public office will be allowed to shrug off Hawaii’s housing crisis.

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