May 29, 2010

The Legacy of Ohana Dwelling Units in Honolulu

Since ADU’s and Ohana’s share the same intent, infrastructure requirements, and community perception, it’s helpful to understand the history: success and pitfalls of Ohana Dwellings in Honolulu.

In 1982, Mayor Eileen Anderson coined the term “Ohana Dwelling” to describe the second units that were allowed to be added to residential property. A 1984 Program Evaluation of Ohana Housing states, “It was a slow year for single family residential construction on Oahu in 1982-83. However, in the program’s first year of implementation, ohana units comprised roughly one-fourth of all single family construction (emphasis added). Without the ohana zoning provisions, these units probably would not have been built. Theoretically, about 45 acres of additional land would have been required had these additional units been constructed in a typical subdivision.”  (In 1982, Honolulu Mayor Anderson was already thinking Green and demonstrating principles of Smart Growth)

But due to abuse, the program was suspended and no Ohana permits were issued from Jan 1990 to early 1994. Developers had been using the Ohana Dwelling provisions as a loophole to build, CPR and then sell the 2nd (Ohana) dwelling unit. What was originally one residential property zoned for single-family dwelling use, became built-out with two separate single-family homes, as if the property were subdivided into two lots.
On Jan 22, 1994, the City once again started issuing Ohana Dwelling permits, but this time, under strict limitations designed to prevent the previous abuses.

In 2006, an Ordinance removed the floor area limitations for Ohana Dwelling Units in an attempt to encourage the adoption of Ohana Units. Despite this, Ohana Units still have not gained widespread adoption among eligible properties because the provisions are too restrictive. Some of these restrictions include:
  • Ohana eligible areas limited to areas with adequate road, water and sewer infrastructure,
  • Ohana Unit must be attached to the main house (cannot be a separate structure),
  • $5,380 sewer connection fee (increasing to $5,541 in July 2010),  
  • 2 additional parking stalls,  
  • a Restrictive Covenant stating the unit can only be rented to people related by blood, marriage, adoption, and  
  • the extensive amount of retrofit work required to provide the required 1-hour fire wall separation (a wall/floor assembly that must comply w/ ASTM E-119). It is difficult to upgrade the older single-wall homes in Hawaii to comply with a building code written on the mainland.
Interestingly, the rules meant to discourage abuse of the Ohana Unit program created a morass of red tape, grinding the production of new Ohana Units to a halt. At the same time, homes overcrowded with growing families and landlords desperate for rental income, found a new loophole – the Recreation Room.

Compared to an Ohana Unit, an Illegal Rec Room Rental Unit does not require any retrofits or fees (see attached chart compaing ADU’s, Ohana Units, and illegal Rec Rooms). Consequently, more and more homeowners are opting for noncompliance and the government is losing revenue from permit fees, monthly sewer base charges (billed by BWS), GET from rental income, etc.

With all these restrictions, it is then of no surprise that of the approx 2,000 Ohana Units in existence, nearly all were permitted between 1982 to 1997. According to a 2005 Dept of Planning & Permitting report (or download it here), 17,098 properties are eligible for Ohana Units. The majority: 1,300 of existing Ohana Units are located in the Primary Urban Center, which can accommodate approx 7,059 additional Ohana Units.