Hawaiʻi Realtors Legislative Agenda: Affordable Housing and Cesspools
The statewide association supports a bill that would allow the counties to reclassify up to 100 acres of nonessential agricultural land if at least half of it is for affordable housing.
The statewide Hawaiʻi Realtors organization this year is again backing a bill in the state Legislature that would give counties more authority over the development of affordable housing. Another bill addresses where wastewater ends up after it leaves people’s homes.
The affordable housing bill is nearly identical to a measure the group supported last year. It would allow Hawaiʻi’s counties to reclassify 15 to 100 acres of nonessential agricultural land for residential use when at least 50% of the housing planned for that land is set aside as affordable.
Hawaiʻi Realtors’ 2023 President Kalama Kim says counties currently only have the autonomy to reclassify up to 15 acres of nonessential agricultural land, which means larger parcels are subject to regulation by both the county and the state Land Use Commission. House Bill 673, and its companion, Senate Bill 469, would eliminate the state approval process that slows housing development and adds to costs.
“We know that one of the major challenges with providing affordable housing is that if you are sitting on your land for a long period of time, the holding costs continue to rise, inflation hits, building costs get more expensive and somehow the end product, after years of getting these approvals from the county and state, is much more expensive than originally planned,” says Kim.
“Our goal is to increase that 15 acres to 100 to allow the counties to work to reclassify nonessential agricultural lands so that developers can bring units to market more quickly.”
Deadline to Ban Cesspools
Hawaiʻi Realtors is also supporting bills that address an important deadline: Hawaiʻi’s more than 80,000 cesspools must be converted to a septic system or aerobic treatment system, or be connected to a county sewage system, by 2050.
House Bill 587 and its companion, Senate Bill 428, would require each county to develop a comprehensive integrated wastewater plan that identifies where the treatment systems are needed to replace existing cesspools, as well as the financial resources to make that happen. The plan would be due less than a year from now, before the start of the 2024 legislative session.
Cesspools, which put Hawaiʻi’s groundwater and nearshore waters at risk, are basically holes in the ground that collect wastewater, including human waste.
More than 80,000 cesspools must be converted in 27 years. “That’s 3,000 per year between now and 2050,” Kim says. “We don’t have the manpower, we don’t have the labor.”
He noted that in the past the focus was on requiring homeowners to upgrade to a septic system or county sewer system before they could sell their homes, but many people could not afford to do that, especially within a short period of time.
“It’s not cheap, and we don’t want to put the burden on the homeowner,” he says.
Kim became president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Hawaiʻi Realty last year after 17 years at Coldwell Banker Realty, where he was most recently principal broker and district manager.