About HSCA

The Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance is a grass-roots non-profit organization based on the Big Island of Hawaii.  This page contains some history, our goals and a list of talking points about why this work is important.

Our Definition of Sustainable Community: A multi-family, land-based community that incorporates ecological and sustainable practices.

Please see our POSITION PAPER for more details.


Graham & Deena: Board Members of the HSCA

Graham & Dena: Board Members of the HSCA

HSCA’s goal is having an ordinance passed that permits the use of owner ingenuity & preferences in the creation of affordable, owner-built, low-impact housing on agricultural land,  suitable for the Big Island’s varied tropical locations, lifestyles & economy.

Our first resolution, the Sustainable Habitat Building Code Resolution requested the Department of Public Works to establish minimum requirements for owners/builders of rural dwellings on agricultural parcels, through waiver or exemption from existing codes.

This will allow the use of substitute materials, procedures and alternatives, to the extent that a reasonable degree of health and safety is provided.

We have a draft Sustainable Building Code under review by the Dept. of Public Works.

We have been successful with two County Resolutions.

  1. Sustainable Habitat Building Res # 167-11
  2. Sustainable Living Research Site Res # 302-12

Now we are submitting a resolution to urge the State to enact legislation to establish SUSTAINABLE LIVING RESEARCH SITES Bill HB111 on smaller Ag land parcels.  This is a wider scope than just the building materials and codes.

Important Background information

Talking points for our Resolutions and Ordinances:

1. NEED FOR AFFORDABLE HOUSING: There are growing numbers of people on the County affordable housing list. The Sustainable Habitat Ordinance will help people to help themselves to provide their own, adaptable and affordable housing.  We don’t want to add any more people to the housing subsidy programs.These regulations will facilitate the availability of affordable, owner-built homes which is essential to the continued health and welfare of the residents and rural communities

2. RANGE OF ALTERNATIVES: We believe that ‘one size does not fit all’ with building codes and the diversity of population in this County would be better served with a range of alternatives to existing regulations.

3. WE WANT AN ORDINANCE: It is the objective of the Hawaii Sustainable Community Alliance to follow up the attached resolution with a bill for a Hawaii County Sustainable Habitat Ordinance.

4. MORE MONEY FOR THE COUNTY: Hawaii County income from taxes will increase by issuing permits for many houses that would not now qualify for permits.  An optional Code would satisfy the needs of residents who otherwise only can afford to build without a permit from the existing system of regulation.

5. FREEDOM TO DO YOUR OWN PLUMBING/ELECTRIC: Owner builders are currently not legally allowed to do plumbing or electrical in their own homes…why? This is not the case for many other states, where owner builders can do any of their own work including electrical and plumbing as long as it passes inspection.  Most people will not do their own, in practice.  Impact on existing trades and professions will be relatively small – those who want and can afford will still mostly use them.  Existing trades unions can co-exist with neighborly barter economies.

6. PUBLIC RECOGNITION AND ACCOUNTABILITY: This proposal includes a system of public record keeping of owner builders who state they are building under an alternate code, or even experimental method.  Many people live in unpermitted houses, and would like to find a way to be legal.  They won’t have to hide anymore, and will be able to choose to build in alternative ways and also the public will be informed of which houses are built like this.

7. HONOR DIVERSITY: We are an island of incredible climate/cultural diversity, and we should not make cultures illegitimate that adapt to the various microclimate and microcultural situations that exist .

8. IMPROVE EXISTING HOUSING: A Sustainable Habitat Ordinance will improve the quality of existing substandard housing by providing a system for overseeing the successful execution of alternative and sustainable design and building techniques.  i.e. healthy agricultural practices, and improving compliance with minimum State Dept. of Health regulations.

9. NO ZONING CHANGES: A Sustainable Habitat Ordinance is not expected to alter existing zoning ordinances.

10.  PROMOTE SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES: We advocate moving towards “educating” and “supporting” the use of ecological methods. The job of civil servants (the County) is to provide info/educational/support resources to people who want to learn how to shelter themselves safely in any variety of ways (in contrast to enforcing one specific set of rules/codes). They may do that directly (county staff) and/or by a referral program to consultants, designers etc.

11.  SAVE ON COSTS OF TRANSPORTATION:  Hawaii Island’s rural areas are sometimes remote and often serviced by substandard roads, resulting in extra cost in transporting building materials from commercial centers.

12. BUILD COMMUNITY: Benefits for those who need these alternatives will be large and more than just economic (like providing self esteem/”I can do it,” and community-building through work parties, sharing neighborhood/local skills, enabling more community living, etc.).

13. ECOLOGICAL TO USE LOCAL MATERIALS: In rural areas of Hawaii Island there are many locally available, underutilized, renewable building materials, such as bamboo, tropical hardwoods, and other tropical wood species. The use of locally-available and minimally processed building materials can reduce overall construction costs and result in a smaller ecological footprint. According to the Hawaii County Integrated Resource and Solid Waste Management Plan, lumber accounts for 10% or more of materials disposed of in Hawaii County’s landfills.

14. WE DON’T NEED TO BUILD LIKE THE MAINLAND: Hawaii Island is blessed with a mild climate that can obviate the need for insulation, artificial heating and cooling, and associated construction materials.

Standard mainland building codes create unlivable unhealthy houses here… they are, in many Hawaiian climates, mold traps, as well as all their other problems.

15. PROTECT NATURAL RESOURCES: In the spirit of the newly passed Charter Amendment 2010

Prop. 6, this resolution supports the ideal of conserving and protecting Hawaii’s natural and cultural resources.

16. EXPAND FOOD PRODUCTION: The first goal of the County of Hawaii Agriculture Development Plan is to expand Hawai’i Island food production so that 30% of its residents’ demand for food can be supplied by local producers by 2020.

17. ENCOURAGE RURAL SELF SUFFICIENCY: Establishment and occupation of owner-built sustainable habitat on agricultural land increases food production on that land, contributing to island-wide food sufficiency goals.

18. OTHERS HAVE DONE THIS: Alternative “limited density rural dwelling” building code ordinances have been adopted in many other jurisdictions in the United States over the last three decades.

Our board members include:

  • Graham Ellis
  • Bradley Westervelt
  • Amara Karuna
  • Mojo Mustapha
  • Dena Smith
  • Michele David

We hold steering committee meetings in Puna and general member meetings once a year.

If you would like to become more involved please email us at

You can also subscribe to our newsletter to receive progress updates and other community resources.