Building Affordable Housing in Hawaii

In Fiscal Year 2012, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development faces a significant budget reduction. Both the Senate and House Appropriations Committees voted to decrease HUD’s budget by several billion dollars. The result is that state and local governments must find ways to meet significant affordable housing needs with less federal funding. The shortage of affordable housing, combined with the shortage of money, has caused some in the private sector to look for creative solutions of their own.

A story appeared recently on a local Hawaii news station about attorney Tony Locricchio – a Maunawili, Honolulu resident who’s trying a unique approach to affordable housing construction.

Tony is not a professional builder, but with the help of some friends who are, he’s managed to collect enough “used” building material to erect five small homes. When they’re completed, each will have cost less than $5,000 to build. Tony and his crew keep costs down by using unwanted material in creative ways. For example, the walls of one home are actually doors that originally cost $400. Tony bought them for $15.

The recycled and reused material can generally be purchased for pennies on the dollar, and if volunteers build the homes, costs are all but non-existent. Tony is building the homes on his own property and using them as proof that affordable, well-built housing doesn’t have to be expensive.

Hawaii’s Housing Finance and Development Corporation says it will consider any cost-effective building options provided they meet zoning and building code requirements, and other states would do well to follow its lead. In communities across the country, families spend years waiting for low-income housing units to become available. Many cities and towns have closed their waiting lists to new families because the lists are already too long, with families waiting five years or longer for affordable housing.

Hawaii currently has an affordable housing shortage of about 30,000 units. And that’s only counting families currently in homes that they can’t afford; it doesn’t include the state’s homeless population. Once Hawaii officials have seen the finished product, Tony intends to dismantle his homes and take them to Micronesia, where he’ll teach them how to replicate his innovative building model.

Tony’s unique approach to the affordable housing shortage in Hawaii is excellent proof that the private sector can make a significant impact in areas where the government is limited in its ability to help. As HUD and other departments that fund housing-related activities see their budgets reduced, it becomes increasingly important for the private and public sectors to work together.