Today will be a potpourri of housing policy and politics, relating to issues before the Kauai County Council.
The 3 percent for affordable housing proposed charter amendment that was introduced by Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura was shot down this past Wednesday by the council majority.
It is interesting that Councilmember Ross Kagawa believes that voters are smart enough to remove term limits for him and his colleagues, but not smart enough to vote on budget priorities.
I found the argument made “that the setting of budget priorities is beyond the scope of regular voters” was a bit disingenuous. In the past voters chose to create an “open space fund” via this same process. This fund has been enormously successful, and has not adversely impacted the budget process one iota.
The question of whether this type of initiative should be done “by ordinance” or “by charter amendment,” is a valid one. The ordinance is a route that allows for more budget flexibility and does in fact, at first glance, seem the more sensible route to take.
However the reality is that future councils may or may not place funding of affordable housing as a priority, and consequently there may or may not be the funds available for housing on a year-to-year basis. More importantly, the “ordinance route” is not a “dedicated funding stream” which is needed to support the floating of long-term low interest bonds necessary to do large projects.
Dedicating 3 percent of property taxes to funding affordable housing via a charter amendment, would give the county instant access to over $50 million that could be used tomorrow to begin a major affordable housing project (or projects). Working in partnership with private non-profit affordable housing developers, and utilizing other federal and state matching funds, it is not unreasonable that this amount could double or triple via further leveraging. In other words, Kauai could increase its affordable housing inventory significantly during our lifetime.
A budget ordinance may give the County Housing Agency $4 million in any given year (based on the current proposal) if the council during a given year, decides that housing is a priority.
So, the people can choose a path that grants them access to $50 million today for affordable housing, or take a chance that future councils may or may not budget drips and drabs of funding.
Oh wait, the people will not have a choice, because the council voted down the measure and will not allow the matter to be on the ballot. But you will be given the opportunity to choose to remove the existing term limits for councilmembers, and allow them to serve in perpetuity.
On other matters relating to housing: At today’s regular Wednesday meeting, the Council will be discussing and voting on the up-zoning of Rice Street initiative introduced by Councilmember Brun (Bill 2687).
The broad scope of the testimony given during last week’s public hearing was thoughtful and consistent. In general the testimony was in support of giving property owners the benefit of doubling their allowable density, IF there were measures in place to ensure that the increased density would be used for affordable housing. It will be interesting if the council acknowledges this important element, totally lacking now in the proposed ordinance.
Actually it’s bit worse than that. The proposal now on the table does not even mention the word affordable in its existing language.
My complements to the increasing number of citizens getting involved in the process and showing up at the Council meetings. Please know that your voice is important, and please continue showing up. Bring a friend or neighbor with you next time. Or at the minimum, send an email to the council at: email@example.com
It’s call civic engagement. And to create and preserve the future our children and grandchildren deserve, we need more of it.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.