Hawaii Governor Wipes Away Regulatory Barriers to Housing With the Stroke of a Pen

Hawaii Governor Josh Green earlier this month issued an executive order intended to spur housing construction in the state. The “Emergency Proclamation Relating to Housing,” as the order was titled, suspends state and county laws focusing on land use, historic preservation, and environmental review.

According to an article by Stewart Yerton for Honolulu Civil Beat, the governor cited a state law “giving the governor broad power to suspend laws that impede a response to emergencies such as natural disasters or the coronavirus pandemic” to issue the executive order. “In this case, the emergency is a shortage of housing and the response is to lower regulatory barriers to building homes,” reports Yerton.

Yerton adds that Gov. Green has framed housing prices in the state as an existential threat, “which has seen an outmigration that averaged 20 people per day last year as residents unable to afford the high cost of living fled to the mainland.”

The executive order provoked opposition, however, over concern about “potential exploitation of land and environmental harms with the suspension of many regulations aimed at balancing the need for development with protecting natural and cultural resources,” reports Yerton.

While multiple states have taken steps to preempt local control of land use powers in the name of housing affordability in recent years—namely Oregon, California, Montana, and Vermont—this is the first time such a sweeping act of state preemption has been achieved without approval from the state legislature.

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