LIHUE — Tiny houses could be a solution for Kauai’s tense rental market, as both landlords and renters on Kauai are stressed out about keeping a roof over their heads.
“Finding affordable long-term rentals on Kauai is becoming close to impossible,” said Michelle Ramsey, who has been searching for a new home with her husband for three months.
Ramsey’s landlord decided to sell their current unit, and after being notified, the couple began a search for somewhere new to live.
“The prices for units are astounding, not to mention the scammers using Craigslist to take advantage of anyone hoping to find some place affordable,” she said. “Many legitimate, available rentals are taken within hours of being advertised.”
“It looks like living on the beach may become a reality,” she said.
Landlords haven’t returned her calls. She and her husband are embarked on a “fruitless endeavor” she said, and they wonder if there’s anything to be done.
Dale Rosenfeld, who has been renting out space on her property in the Wailua Homesteads for more than 30 years, said she thinks opening up agriculture lands to house ag workers, and the introduction of tiny houses to the rental market could do the trick.
“I have a farm here and if I could put tiny houses and have people living in small areas,” she said. “That’s one of the things that could happen.”
She said allowing small dwellings on ag land could also help boost local agriculture and play into the interactive ecotourism industry by offering stay-and-farm options with farm tours and housing available for visitors.
Rosenfeld thinks that would help put money in landowners’ pockets and ease the financial burden.
“Having tiny houses and allowing farm dwellings will allow people to live on the ag land while they’re working there,” she said.
Over at Kauai Community College, students and teachers with the sustainability and carpentry departments have partnered together and created a 10-foot x 12-foot model that could work.
And in Anahola, Robin Danner’s tiny house project has produced two prototypes she’s aiming at the Native Hawaiian population with the vision of opening up the tiny house concept to all Hawaii families statewide.
“It is very exciting to work with these creatively designed tiny homes,” said Eric Knutzen, Kauai resident and former staff member at KCC who has worked on the college’s tiny house.
His focus was on helping design a converted 40-foot high-top containers for dwelling.
“I’m humbly appreciative to be a part of this new wave of housing to help address our housing needs,” he said.
While the number of rentals on the market is one challenge for both renters and landlords, Rosenfeld said she recently experienced a marked lack of effort when trying to rent out her space in December.
After advertising on a handful of social media sites — Craigslist among them — she had 50 people voice interest in her one bedroom space, which she was renting at $1,600 for a single person and $1,900 for two people.
That price includes utilities, parking spaces, and Rosenfeld takes care of the landscaping.
“I got nasty comments on my posts, saying ‘who can afford $1,900?’,” Rosenfeld said. “For two people who work, they can afford that. And, where there’s two people in a place, it’s more expensive.”
Rosenfeld’s standards for renting her unit were one or two people maximum who had transportation and didn’t smoke cigarettes.
She allows animals in her rental, which was deep cleaned and painted after her renters of four years moved out and left the place mold-ridden and dirty.
Recently, she checked out a rental unit on the Westside for a couple who needed on-island eyes for their search, and found a 500-square-foot room that was going for $2,000 per month. The space was divided into two rooms with a living room and a kitchen.
“You could barely turn around in any of the rooms and what the landlords were doing was planning on upping that rent to a two bedroom,” Rosenfeld said. “I think we should all give more than we take.”
A month in a hostel would cost around $1,400, she reasoned, and that’s not an appropriate situation for families.
“I’ve seen changes in how many people say they’re desperate for a place to say, but that being said, they aren’t considerate of my requests,” she said. “I got had 50 people respond to my listing and only five actually filled out an application.”
She continued: “So, all these people are desperate, but they’re desperate for housing and not willing to put any work in at the same time.”
Anahola resident Christie Thompson said she’s been combing social media, Craigslist and talking to people on the street for 45 days and has only seen two properties that are suitable. She was notified her landlord sold his house and was asked to move.
She has three small dogs, is employed full time, and has a potential roommate lined up.
The first place she saw was a screened lanai with a bathroom that was being hailed a studio for $1,100 per month. The second was listed as a two-bedroom, two-bath, for $1,700 plus utilities. Thompson said that and ended up being a 15 x 25 room with two smaller rooms attached.
“This is nearing a full-blown emergency situation here and I don’t just mean for me,” Thompson said.
Melissa Chadwick has been a Kauai resident for more than 10 years, is employed full time with two children. She doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, has no pets and is “super clean, no drama”, and hasn’t been able to find a place within her price range.
“All ads for studios say only one person, no children and sometimes even three-bedroom houses say only one person allowed,” she said. “Many say you must be vegan and very quiet and never home, basically.”
Melissa Miles, a single Kauai mother with two kids and three part-time jobs said she just received a 45-day notice after being a tenant for four years in her current space because the owners are selling the house.
“We are on HUD! We have no place to go,” she said.
On the North Shore, Contessa Pilson said her family is also on the verge of homelessness as their lease is up in January and they can’t find anything else to rent.
“It’s insane and most people find themselves camping until they can find a place,” she said.
Renters and landowners alike say the Kauai rental market is tumultuous and difficult to manage and tiny houses are just one possible solution to alleviate the pressure.
Many are just waiting for anything, and are hoping ideas will be implemented as soon as possible to provide real-world assistance to families that need a roof over their heads.
“We are struggling here,” Rosenfeld said.