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Blangiardi prioritizes building housing and jobs during State of the City address

rick blangiardi.png
Office of Gov. Josh Green
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi gave his 2023 State of the City address at the Mission Memorial Auditorium on March 14.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi delivered his third State of the City address on Tuesday, where he outlined his plans to tackle Oʻahu's homelessness and affordable housing issues.

Throughout his speech, Blangiardi repeatedly referred to the city's "wicked problems," — a term he said was expanded on during the city's participation in the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.

Blangiardi said that one of those problems continues to be the lack of affordable housing on Oʻahu.

The Affordable Housing Working Group, with managing director Mike Formby, was one initiative that Blangiardi said has been created to create cross-sector collaboration.

The group wrote a bill during Blangiardi's first year in office that incentivized housing units to provide affordable alternatives. He highlighted that there is now one complete project, five under construction and three with permits.

Other housing initiatives have been extended from former Mayor Kirk Caldwell's term — including Varona Village, Dee-Lite Bakery, Harbor Arms and more.

"Our goal is to identify infrastructure capacity, cost and schedule constraints which will allow the city and the state to forecast projects based on the scalable development of affordable housing," Blangiardi said. "In other words, we want to show that when you commit to infrastructure first, that affordable housing can and will follow."

Blangiardi also touched on his administration's re-establishment of the Private Activity Bond program for the first time in 25 years, which works to maintain the affordability status of over 500 housing units in Chinatown and Waipahu.

He said improving housing and homelessness depends on the work of the Department of Planning and Permitting — an agency currently facing a backlog of work.

Since the DPP's formation in 1998, the total number of permits being approved has only seen a minimal increase, according to the mayor. But the value of those permits, accounting for inflation, has gone up more than $1 billion dollars — an increase of roughly 75%.

Slow movements within the DPP have caused delays in the city's rail project and building solar panels to reach the city's net-zero carbon goals.

Blangiardi said he is considering splitting planning and permitting to be separate departments in an effort to solve the backlog. He also recognized DPP's recently implemented artificial intelligence program to prescreen building plans for common errors. This changed the average wait time for pre-screening from five months to five weeks.

Additionally, Blangiardi mentioned his reoccurring efforts to prioritize environmental infrastructure.

He stated that Oʻahu now has a total of 56 electric buses and that the plan is to convert all city buses to electric within the next 15 years.

As for waste on the island, the Waimānalo Gulch received a record-low of 215,000 tons of refuse last year.

Blangiardi also raved that the Department of Environmental Services' new Ash Recycling Project will be operational before the city opens a new landfill, and will recycle 60% of the ash that comes from burning trash. Blangiardi said the next landfill will not be built on the Waiʻanae Coast.

The west side of Oʻahu may also see free wi-fi at beach parks along the coastline, as promised by the mayor.

As for jobs to support these, and future initiatives, Blangiardi said he is also looking to increase staffing through all city departments.

He said that Emergency Medical Services received nearly 130,000 calls last year — which was about 235 calls per day.

"Bottom line, the city needs to expand our EMS coverage across the island — and we’re starting with 48 new EMTs, who will be entering into the recruit academy this coming July," Blangiardi said.

The city has seen a positive employee growth this year for the first time in more than five years, according to Blangiardi.

"As a team, we are committed to restoring trust in city government through our actions and positive results, because through the restoration of trust comes the reclaiming of hope," he said.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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