Housing crisis

A warning about the housing crisis in Hawaii – from 1970

A speech is drafted for delivery at 6:30 p.m. Friday, July 3 at the Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom. It is addressed to the Lieutenant Governor, who will address the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1186.

The lieutenant governor’s remarks will launch straight into a singular topic, noting with frustration that the state of Hawaii has been “treated to months of housing euphoria.” He is angry and his words will preface a politically painful statement, which his audience might not like to hear.

He still goes on to say “it would be easy for the unknown to assume that we are on the right track to finding a solution to our housing crisis. This is not the case. On the contrary, the situation has deteriorated. His outspokenness is colored by a fast-track campaign for Hawaii’s governorship.

The year is 1970. The person addressing the ballroom is not Dr. Josh Green, who was born less than six months before the speech. Instead, the lieutenant governor is Thomas P. Gill, an iconoclast defying incumbent Governor John Burns in the Democratic primary that year.

“Boon for Developers”

A former territorial and state legislator, U.S. congressman, and director of the state Bureau of Economic Opportunity during President Lyndon B. Johnson’s war on poverty, Gill’s campaign is credible. In “Catch A Wave”, journalist and historian Tom Coffman describes the battle between Burns and Gill as “a showdown of strong personalities, a heavyweight parking lot, a contest that would usher in the new decade”.

To underscore his arguments, Lieutenant Governor Gill cites reports from Hawaii Business and the Bank of Hawaii, the collective analysis of which leads to two key conclusions: 1) residential building permits are plummeting, the supply of housing reaching an unprecedented low vacancy rate; and 2) the pace of hotel construction faces a reduction as the condominium market softens.

cover of "catch a wave"

After the 1970 legislative session adjourned, Gill then analyzed a housing bill passed and signed by Burns into state law as Law 105. The groundbreaking law established policies such as the Revolving Fund housing unit, “which authorized the issuance of $125,000,000 in general bonds to achieve the objectives of the housing development program.

While not opposed to the legislation, Gill cautions how Bill 105 can serve as a “windfall for developers” and is not guaranteed to “necessarily produce a substantial amount of low-cost housing.” price “.

Gill’s criticisms relate to concerns about how the state government could misuse public funding for housing, producing “an effect of pouring tax money, in the form of subsidies, into an industry already too expensive and inefficient”.

Depending on how Law 105 is used, Gill says the state of Hawaii can use the law to usher in a “second housing market.” In this vision, the state will operate as a housing developer, building large numbers of units through skilled contract builders, providing units to people “who need a home, don’t have one already one and who cannot buy one on the private market” while maintaining a right to buy back housing “to avoid speculation”.

Moreover, Gill did not hope to compete with the private housing market, promising that private interests could continue to “produce higher-priced houses and speculative condominiums, just as they do now.” Together, Gill argues that the two markets will compete to supply 150,000 to Hawaii by 1980.

Government strength — in Gill’s mind — could put Hawaii’s housing crisis on a gradually easing pace, so a housing crisis may never have existed in 2022.

“Chronic housing crisis”

In 2022, Gill’s vision portends the opening of a simple question: how has Hawaii’s housing crisis evolved in response to his attitude? A 2017 state Senate bill praises Law 105 of 1970, noting that it “expanded the powers of the then-Hawaii Housing Authority to provide affordable housing for sale to the general public, in addition to providing affordable rental housing”, functioning as a foundation for the establishment of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation.

However, did Hawaii push the letter of law far enough — as far as Gill wanted to go?

The legacy of Gill’s vision haunts Hawaii under the guise of a chronic housing crisis. I alone do not see the lingering ghost of 1970; Hawaii’s contemporary housing crisis is explored by Richard Borreca in a Honolulu Star-Advertiser column published July 3, exactly 52 years to the day from Gill’s intended remarks. It was on July 3, 1970, that a primary race between Burns and Gill became nearly identical to the current 2022 primary race.

Hawaii’s housing crisis was just as pressing in 1970 as it was in 2022. Like its predecessor, Lieutenant Governor Josh Green’s incumbent campaign (alongside the campaigns of leading opponents US Congressman Kai Kahele and former first lady Vicky Cayetano) is trying to solve the housing problem. , acknowledging that “the housing crisis has reached a state of emergency”. The moment when this “state of emergency” was reached could well be the year of Green’s birth. So what is the progress of the last half-century, and how will the candidates build on that progress (or lack thereof)?

Gill’s name fades from historical memory with the passing of each year since his death in 2009. However, the Hawaii Congressional Papers Collection at the University of Hawaii Manoa’s Thomas Hale Hamilton Library retains two copies of Gill’s forgotten speech. These articles open up new insight into a consequential campaign made eponymous by Coffman’s political history.

Gill’s criticisms relate to concerns about how the state government might misuse public funding for housing.

“The new act, and those already on the books,” Gill concluded in the Coral Ballroom, “can give us answers and opportunities we haven’t had before, but only if we use them in new ways. .”

Laws enacted in 1970 or 2022 can serve to mitigate systemic ills or exacerbate crises. According to who holds the position of general manager, “it all depends on how it is used”.

In keeping with Gill’s statutory conscience, gubernatorial candidates in 2022 should maintain a level of humility in this race. In the dialogue on topics such as our chronic housing crisis, the campaigns are neither fresh nor their ideas innovative.

Such races of governors, after all, are ultimately singular pins placed along a narrative journey mapping Hawaii’s history, where the only certainty is a perpetually settled crisis as a prologue to an unknown future. Through their participation, the 2022 gubernatorial candidates are entering into a historic, decades-long dialogue about our housing crisis.