HILO, Hawaii (KHON2) — “Hopeless.” That’s the description given by a University of Hawaii housing expert regarding the dream of owning property in Hawaii. Over-regulation, they claim, has led to limited availability of homes in the market.

A major culprit is the sluggishness of the permitting process. Staff members from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization said that an increase in housing construction could substantially alleviate the high cost of living in the islands, which is largely driven by housing expenses.

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However, housing construction has stalled over the past two decades, causing housing prices to skyrocket.

UHERO indicates that delays in the permitting process in Hawaii have been roughly three times longer than the national average.

“We’ve been focusing on sustainability, which to us means the ability to allow our kids to raise their own children here in Hawaii,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said.

“Permitting has been one of the barriers to achieving this, as affordable housing is crucial for maintaining a resident population. When the permitting process takes an extended period of time, we know that it drives up prices,” said Roth.

In Honolulu, the Department of Planning and Permitting reports that they’ve reduced permit waiting times from a median of 330 days to 170 days since November 2022, thanks to the implementation of automated prescreening and other improvements.

For context, in November, the DPP reported that the prescreening process alone took 178 days.

Staffing remains a hurdle in bringing the number of days to approve a permit. Despite filling 21 positions this year, the department is still grappling with finding personnel.

When asked about the current number of backlogged permits, the DPP reported that they could not provide the information due to outdated technology that they’re currently working to upgrade.

“We continue to address the fundamental problems of inadequate staffing levels, ineffective technology, layers of code requirements, and inefficient processes that are a result of years of neglect and band-aid solutions,” said a representative of the DPP.

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Officials recommend that applicants submit their permits correctly and respond to any raised concerns in a timely manner to avoid delays.