Affordable Housing

By 2030, decrease the percentage of income that goes to housing and transportation.
Hawai‘i has some of the highest housing costs in the country, and housing affordability is a major concern for residents. Generally, housing is considered “affordable” when costs are at or below 30% of household income. Families who pay more than 30% of their income for housing are considered cost burdened and may have difficulty affording other necessities (HUD, 2012). It is important to note that single-family housing is not desirable in Hawai‘i due to limited land mass as it creates urban sprawl. To increase the affordability in housing is to fully utilize urban areas and construct and maintain multi-unit affordable housing that remains at 30% of resident annual monthly income (AMI). In some cases, affordable housing units are constructed, but remain at 30% for only a few years until they are converted to market value, and are no longer “affordable."
To achieve a goal of more affordability for renters and homeowners, there is a strong need to address housing equity and communities with socioeconomic vulnerabilities while also recognizing the diverse range of community characteristics across the state. According to data from the University of Hawai‘i’s Center on the Family, 47% of families receiving houseless outreach services are Native Hawaiians. In addition, housing affordability is often linked to concerns over homelessness or houselessness. The state has invested resources into shelters and housing programs like Housing First focused on addressing houselessness by adding new housing units for at risk groups. Additionally, organizations that provide affordable housing in Hawai‘i use various incentives and financial mechanisms including federal tax credits, low-interest loans, and negotiated land costs to make projects available. In 2017, Hawai‘i experienced a decline in houseless rates for the first time in a decade, with the total population dipping nine percent from 2016 (Pacific Standard Magazine, 2017). Despite this, houselessness continues to be a pressing issue for our communities and Hawai‘i ranks highest in the United States for houselessness rates.

Affordability of Housing Index

The housing affordability index compares the price of an “affordable” mortgage to the prevailing median single family home and condominium prices.  An index value of 100 means the maximum affordable mortgage for a family with the median income is large enough to purchase a home or condo at the current median price.  The methods and formulas used by University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization (UHERO) to calculate the Hawai‘i indices are similar to those used by the National Association of Realtors in their national indexes (UHERO). 
The graphs below illustrate trends in housing affordability compared to change in economic conditions for families. Trends across the four counties are generally similar coinciding with effect of changes in economic and housing market trends across the state, such as: the labor market weakening and low employment in 2006, low housing prices in 2009 in accordance with the Great Recession – a period of general economic decline for the United States during 2008 and 2012 – strengthened economic conditions in 2012, and high sales in 2014. These factors have and continue to contribute to the level of housing affordability in Hawai‘i.
Figures 1-5 express the trends in the Housing Affordability Index for single family homes statewide and per county based on data from the UHERO dashboard. The index tracks the price of an “affordable” mortgage relative to the average median home price with the value expressed as percentage change from 2005-2018. An increasing index value reflects greater ability to afford a home. (Source: University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization (UHERO))

Housing + Transportation Index 

Traditional measures of housing affordability ignore transportation costs; however, there are often tradeoffs between housing and transportation costs. Typically, transportation is a household’s second-largest expenditure and are largely a function of the characteristics of the neighborhood in which a household lives. Compact neighborhoods with walkable streets and high access to jobs, transit, and a wide variety of businesses are often relatively low carbon options. While it may be more costly to afford a residence near the city-center, there can be a decline in transportation costs. By accounting for the cost of housing with the cost of transportation, the Housing + Transportation Index provides a comprehensive understanding of the affordability of place. Dividing these costs by the representative income illustrates the cost burden of housing and transportation expenses placed on a typical household. While housing alone is traditionally deemed affordable when consuming no more than 30% of income, the H+T Index incorporates transportation costs and sets an expanded standard of affordability at 45% of household income for the combined cost. (Center for Neighborhood Technology).
Figure 6: Statewide percentage of income for housing, transportation, and housing + transportation. (Source: Center for Neighborhood Technology)
Figure 7: County percentages of income for housing, transportation, and housing + transportation. (Source: Center for Neighborhood Technology) 

Federal Tax Programs

There are a few existing federal programs offered through tax credits for construction of low-income housing that are designed specifically for rental properties. These programs are offered to properties targeting tenants earning 30-60% of Area Median Income (AMI). While low-income residents can qualify for affordable housing units that are subsidized, new construction projects for affordable housing are regulated and have limitations. In addition, middle-income residents that do not qualify for subsidized housing face challenges buying or renting housing at current market values.

Affordable Housing Units

There are 211 low income housing apartment complexes in Hawai’i which contain 17,552 affordable apartments for rent. Many of these rental apartments are income based housing with about 10,500 apartments that set rent based on income. Often referred to as "HUD apartments", there are roughly 3,300 Project-Based Section 8 subsidized apartments in Hawai‘i. There are 8,800 other low income apartments that don't have rental assistance but are still considered to be affordable housing for low income families. The state agency for affordable housing, Hawai‘i Housing Finance and Development Corporation has facilitated the development of 6,807 workforce and affordable housing units statewide since its inception in 2006, and has a production plan in place to assist in the finance and development of approximately 6,811 workforce/affordable units over the next five years (DBEDT). In addition, the Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority (HPHA), which manages federal and state public housing programs to provide safe and affordable income-based housing to the most vulnerable people in Hawai'i, updated its five year plan in 2016 to include acquisition and development of affordable housing properties (DBEDT). In addition to supporting homeless, veterans, involuntary displaced, and victims of domestic abuse, HPHA is pursuing a mixed use, mixed income, public-private partnership within Honolulu’s Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zones.

Figure 12: The chart above shows the total number of low income units constructed each year statewide. (Source: Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT): Hawai‘i Housing Finance & Development)


Houselessness is a critical issue facing Hawai‘i’s communities, and continues to affect individuals and families across the state. Equitable access to basic needs and services, such as food, water and sanitation, shelter, health care, and education, are paramount to building sustainable and resilient communities. Vulnerable populations, such as the houseless, are often more susceptible to impacts from crises, such as severe weather events, natural disasters, and other shocks and stressors.
Houselessness describes individuals without a permanent dwelling, or access to safe, adequate housing. Contributing factors can include lack of affordable housing, lack of employment, access to affordable health care and mental-health services, psychological disorders or physical disabilities, substance abuse, or other causes. The complexity of the challenge denotes the need for comprehensive solutions by public, private, and community stakeholders, building on Hawai‘i’s island values and sense of aloha.
The state and counties, working with Continua of Care partners, conduct point in time counts, a one-night count of individuals experiencing homelessness. It does not reflect the total number of people who might experience homelessness throughout the year.
Figures 13: The chart shows the number of community members that experienced houselessness between 2007 – 2017 by county, based on available data through homeless shelter programs (Source: Honolulu PIT conducted by Partners in Care and Maui, Kauai and Hawaiʻi County by Bridging the Gap).
Figure 14. Statewide Point-in-Time Count of sheltered (emergency and transitional) and unsheltered people (State of Hawaiʻi Homelessness Initiative).
Figure 15. The number of individuals who move from homeless programs (such as emergency or transitional shelters) to permanent housing per year. Following policy changes in 2017, the rate has greatly increased (State of Hawaiʻi Homelessness Initiative).

Learn More and Make A Difference  

Get Involved:
  • Work with local Habitat for Humanity affiliates across the state to help create affordable housing opportunities for families.
  • Get involved with a shelter and food pantry in your area with this directory.
  • Aloha United Way is an organization that aids homeless individuals and families and those on the brink of homelessness, and has opportunities to get involved across the state.
Volunteer in your community. Get involved with local organizations, that provide individuals with shelter and supportive services:
  • O‘ahu
    • Institute for Human Services(IHS) is an agency focused on ending and preventing homelessness in Hawaii.
    • Family Promise of Hawai’i assists homeless families transition into long-term housing.
    • Help the Homeless Keiki Program(Oahu) is designed to assist children in extreme poverty situations, and is a purely volunteer-based non-profit organization always looking for supporters.
    • Helping Hands Hawai’i offers the opportunity to support homeless residents through furniture donation, or by donating from purchases made at the local Foodland, or even online through Amazon.  
    • Touch a Heart has been assisting homeless and vulnerable people on Oahu for more than a decade. Touch A Heartʻs Hoʻolulū ʻĀina aims to increase sustainability and productivity in Hawaiʻi, and this business plan highlights operation, management, financial, and marketing plans with an overall social outcome of shifting homelessness to financial security through appropriate employment and training. To learn more visit here.
  • Hawai‘i Island 
    • HOPE Services Hawai‘i brings to life gospel values of justice, love, compassion and hope through service, empowerment and advocacy.
    • Help the Homeless Keiki Program(HI Island) is designed to assist children in extreme poverty situations, and is a purely volunteer-based non-profit organization always looking for supporters.
  • Maui
    • Ka Hale A Ke Ola is dedicated to serving the needs of the homeless and hungry on Maui by providing emergency food and housing, voicing their concerns, and empowering them to take responsibility for their own lives and to call on the community to assist in these actions.
    • Feed My Sheep Maui is a mobile food distribution program that passes out groceries each week to people in need.
    • Hands on Maui is a site that connects volunteers with volunteering opportunities in categories ranging from outdoor activities to helping out families in need.
  • Kaua‘i:
    • Kaua‘i Independent Food Bank is a non-profit organization created by members of Kaua‘i’s community to feed the hungry of the island.
    • Kaua’i Economic Opportunity is a non-profit formed to help alleviate the conditions of poverty and allow disadvantaged individuals and families attain social and economic self-sufficiency.

SDG 1 - No Poverty
End poverty in all its forms everywhere

SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
Build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
Reduce inequality within and among countries

SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

SDG 13 - Climate Action
Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts

SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 
Promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies

SDG 17 - Partnerships for the Goals
Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development