Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Editorial – Island Voices

By Keith Webster, Catherine Graham and Galen Fox
September. 22, 2019


The age is over when a major state-owned property in urban Oahu can be redeveloped with little or no housing. One example is Aloha Stadium. Current plans for the 98-acre state-owned parcel with its own rail station include only 2,000 housing units, an insufficient number, to say the very least.

Our affordable housing shortage and its direct results, including homelessness and the high cost of living, are the No. 1 concern of the people of Hawaii, as poll after poll confirms. It’s a problem on a vast scale. A recent study by the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism concluded that the statewide housing demand between 2015 and 2025 would be 65,000 units, more than triple the anticipated supply pipeline.

This shortage has caused the state’s population to decline for two straight years, the first time in history, as locals move away to the mainland and overseas in search of a lower cost of living. Urban Honolulu has been the major culprit, with four straight years of population loss, more than offsetting population growth in all three neighbor island counties.

Voters have made clear that past development models are unacceptable, such as suburban sprawl on former agricultural land, or luxury condos likely to be snapped up by wealthy overseas investors.

That leaves limited options for those of us who are serious about ending the affordable housing shortage. One is the Singapore public housing model that builds high-density homes on government-owned land, sells 99-year leases to local residents and could be implemented with no taxpayer subsidy, as state Sen. Stanley Chang has proposed in his ALOHA Homes bill.

Whatever the model, any politically realistic plan to produce tens of thousands of homes in the near future requires significant housing production on government land. Proceeding with redevelopment proposals such as just 2,000 housing units at Aloha Stadium and zero at Blaisdell Center — which together will cost taxpayers over $1.1 billion — would be squandering enormous opportunities that need to be seized instead.

The various government land-owning agencies need to get the message: “Housing is not our mission” cannot be an excuse. That’s what both the Stadium Authority and the Honolulu Department of Enterprise Service say. The same has been said by the University of Hawaii, the Department of Education, and the Department of Land and Natural Resources. All these agencies have worthy missions, but if none of them allow for affordable housing to be built, Hawaii’s housing shortage will continue for decades to come.

Our elected leadership must provide the necessary vision and guidance to ensure that these parcels are used for their highest and best use, which would include housing in addition to arts, sports, education or other facilities.

Indeed, housing can, and should, coexist with the sport and recreational mission of Aloha Stadium. Sports venues all over the country and world, like Madison Square Garden in New York and the Staples Center in Los Angeles, are enhanced by their integration into a mixed-use community with many thousands of housing units within walking distance. Stadium officials estimate that only 20 of the 98 acres is needed for the stadium itself. The site, already surrounded by housing, is a clear market for more in the area.

The Faith Action for Community Equity’s HousingNow! Coalition strongly urges a reconceptualization of the proposed redevelopment of Aloha Stadium to include thousands of mixed-use homes for our local residents, attracting dynamic and innovative residents to reinvigorate our economy. That would be a worthy legacy for this unparalleled parcel, a jewel of Central Oahu.

Keith Webster, Catherine Graham and Galen Fox are members of the Faith Action Housing Now! Coalition.