Tiny housing legislation takes big steps forward

  • Habitats Hawaii creates solar-ready tiny homes on wheels that are wired for 110 volts and metal-roof gutters to capture rain water. COURTESY PHOTO
    Habitats Hawaii creates solar-ready tiny homes on wheels that are wired for 110 volts and metal-roof gutters to capture rain water. COURTESY PHOTO

KOHALA — House Bill HB2 gained more traction last week as it passed review by the Agriculture and Judiciary Committees. It will head for a vote on the floor of the Hawaii House of Representatives this Thursday or Friday. If approved, the bill will proceed to the State Senate sometime after March 9.

Public comments can be provided to legislators within 48 hours of voting.

HB2 would offer a new solution to Hawaii’s affordable housing crisis by allowing homes under 500 square feet on agriculture plots. The bill originated from state Rep. Cindy Evans, who oversees District 7 reaching from North Kona to South and North Kohala.

One of her biggest supporters is Marcy Montgomery, director of One Island Sustainable Living Center. Based in Kohala, the nonprofit organization focuses on a variety of sustainability projects.

“Rep. Evans has made this new bill possible. The tiny homes, on wheels or on permanent foundations, could be installed on land for farm owners or their workers to help increase local food production and food security on Hawaii Island,” she said.

The number of residents in favor of the bill increases weekly.

“This is a unique opportunity where the community input is coming to the awareness of the elected officials at the same time that the legislation is being written,” Montgomery said. “Usually this type of process could take a year or more and it’s happening in just a few months now because there is such strong interest in the Tiny House movement.”

County councilmembers, state representatives and senators seem supportive of the safe, low-cost housing option that could also provide a new solution for senior and homeless housing needs.

Over the past few weeks, in conjunction with community stakeholders, Montgomery has held public meetings in Kapaau and Honokaa, drawing more than 150 residents who wanted to learn more about how Tiny Houses could help solve their housing needs. The standing-room-only sessions opened with a slide show that shows existing house and village designs in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Speakers at the talks included Rep. Evans, Councilmember Tim Richards, designers from the woman-owned Habitats Hawaii design-build company, and members of local Community Development Plan committees.

“There is strong, repeated interest in the use of small footprint homes to create housing clusters, like an eco-village intentional community, homeless community centers, educational farm stays, or for farms and ranch workers,” Montgomery said. “And Native Hawaiian Homeland family members who have been forced to find housing in distant communities are voicing an interest in tiny homes as a means to return to their family land leases.”

Councilmember Richards agreed there is a clear need for “farmers to live on their farms,” be close to their crops to ensure production and eliminate loss. Habitats Hawaii’s cottage-style houses employ off-grid solar, grey water solutions and composting toilets and are built to code.

In addition to HB2, Rep. Evans drafted HB229, which proposes to remove limitations on overall square footage for any home in Hawaii, allowing for smaller footprint and resource efficient dwellings, Montgomery said. If both bills pass, the next step will be developing a detailed implementation plan that addresses public and government concerns about Tiny House regulations.

The County could write its own ordinances that permit Tiny Houses to possibly lower or eliminate cost and paperwork barriers for zoning and building approvals.

“If the bills do not make it all the way through for approval this year, we will be working on amendments and ride different organizations to try again next year,” Montgomery said.

Updates will be provided at Tiny House public meetings this evening at 6:30 p.m. in Kapaau and on March 22 in Honokaa. Email greenschool@oneisland.org for directions.

To make public comments or testimony to State Legislators on HB2 or HB229, go to http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/login/login.aspx

To access the Tiny House video, go to oneisland.org or www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iy2GPyR9-J8&feature=youtu.be

Info or questions: Call 328-2452 or email greenschool@oneisland.org

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