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Sterling Higa: Building Hawaii’s Housing Future with Local Leaders

Sterling Higa: Building Hawaii’s Housing Future with Local Leaders

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and an online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs, Changemakers, and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here with the scoop on the entrepreneurial leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with Sterling Higa, the executive director of Housing Hawaii's Future. Let’s learn what’s happening at Housing Hawaii's Future and how Sterling is impacting the world positively.

Spiffy: Hi Sterling, thanks a million for talking to me today. Tell me, what challenge is Housing Hawaii's Future addressing?

Sterling: Thanks for having me, Spiffy! Though Hawai‘i is often stereotyped as paradise, it comes at a price. The cost of living in Hawai‘i is more than many locals can afford. Housing is the largest expense for most families. The underlying economics of building in Hawai‘i, a burdensome system of regulations, and NIMBY ("not in my backyard") opposition groups combine to create a system where not much housing is being built at a price that local families can afford. Housing Hawaii's Future rallies students and young locals to educate themselves, get civically engaged, and take action to address the housing affordability crisis in Hawai‘i.

Spiffy: What motivated you to do it?

Sterling: Since graduating from public high school, I've watched my classmates leave to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Often, the cost of housing is their reason for leaving. They don't see a possibility of owning a home in Hawai‘i. It's been dispiriting to see friends and families separated by 2,500 miles of the Pacific Ocean. My wife and I are raising three children. I want them to have the opportunity to call Hawai‘i home. True sustainability means that our children and grandchildren can afford to stay.

Spiffy: I understand. Everyone should have a home community. How would you say that your organization is working towards a more equitable world?

Sterling: Housing Hawaii's Future equips students and young locals with the knowledge and skills they need for effective civic engagement. It encourages next-generation leaders to step up and lead their communities. 

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent organization milestone of these leaders. What impact does it make?

Sterling: This summer, we partnered with the John and Cara Odo Scholarship Foundation on their Next-Gen Leaders Summer Program. Fifteen university students spent seven weeks learning about the housing issue through discussions with industry experts. At the end of the program, they presented their work to local business and community leaders.  I'm confident that they will go into positions of leadership in the community.

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

Sterling: There are no comic book heroes or cartoon villains in life. Solving a complex problem requires many stakeholders to work together. Housing Hawaii's Future is not the solutionwe are part of the solution. Our community has to come together to address this issue, with everyone stepping up to take on their portion of the work. We hope that when young leaders get involved, they'll motivate the broader community to take action.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, Sterling—it’s been an honor!

Sterling Higa is often wrong but always seeks truth. He serves as executive director of Housing Hawaii's Future. (Nominated by the Ladderworks team. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 23, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jason “Jackson” Block. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Corner here.