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Hawaii's Housing Shortage Can't Be Solved Until Infrastructure Needs Are Addressed


Hawaii will need an additional 65,000 housing units statewide by 2025. Getting there will require more public infrastructure, like water, sewage, and electricity.


Building 65,000 new homes and apartments means connecting 65,000 new dwellings to public utilities. Experts say the most efficient way to do that is by increasing density in areas already linked in to those services.

That can still take years in the case of sewer service says Tim Houghton with the City and County of Honolulu’s Department of Environmental Services.

“These kind of large programs, large wastewater projects, they do take time. What we need to know is ‘where is the development happening?’”

In some cases, new housing development can’t even get approved until increased sewer capacity is installed. In some cases, those projects can take the better part of a decade to complete.

Even when new sewer capacity is installed, those homes still need water. 40 percent of the state’s new housing need is on Oahu, where according to regulators, like the Board of Water Supply’s Barry Usagawa, there is plenty of water to meet demand.

“You’ve got one million people on this island, using half the water. So there are enough resources, but not quite in the Honolulu are where we are pumping close to the sustainable yield,” Usagawa said.

Water regulators have established pumping limits for each of Oahu’s 24 aquifers, to make sure they aren’t depleted. Keeping everyone supplied without going over those sustainable limits takes 2-thousand miles of pipeline distributing water across the island.

That infrastructure is already in-place, so when it comes to new development, Usagawa says location is critical. Building near established infrastructure avoids costly delays the need to expand water lines. 

But all those pumps and treatment plants won’t work without electricity. Rodney Chong with Hawaiian Electric says to make construction on the scale being discussed all the utilities will have to work together.

“We may compare these scenarios and find out that this scenario is easier for Hawaiian Electric but it's going to be a long project for water supply, for example. So all these combinations have to be looked at holistically.”

That kind of planning will be key to keeping project costs down and the ultimate price of housing units affordable.

Read the second of this two-part series on Hawaii's housing shortage, examining how design can impact affordability.

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