Yukimura blasts Baptiste on housing survey

LIHU’E — Kaua’i County Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura gave a scorching review Wednesday of a survey members of Mayor Bryan J. Baptiste’s administration conducted last year to ascertain the affordable-housing needs of residents.

Yukimura said the survey didn’t pose meaningful questions that could help county leaders ease one of the island’s most critical problems, nor did it poll enough folks to give a clear picture of the island’s housing needs.

Only 444 people participated in the survey.

“Bottom line is that this survey was a waste of time and money,” Yukimura said during a meeting of the council’s Community Assistance Committee held at the historic County Building.

Bernard Carvalho, who heads the county Offices of Community Assistance, saw it differently, noting that while the survey format was informal, the information gleaned from residents could help county leaders fashion solutions.

Even though the survey turnout was small, the project was “positive,” because it was a step forward in the direction of finding solutions, Carvalho said.

Council-woman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who heads the committee, said cooler heads should prevail, and asked her colleagues to discuss the survey issues at another time.

County representatives conducted the survey during the Kauai County Farm Bureau Farm Fair held last August, and a week later at the Kilauea, Lihu’e and Waimea neighborhood centers.

As part of the Mana’olana project, about 444 respondents (413 renters and 31 homeowners) filled out the survey.

Of the 413 renters, 376 said they wanted to buy, and 37 were content to rent.

Of the 31 homeowners, about a third wanted to own a home in centrally located Lihu’e.

Respondents were asked these two key questions:

  • Do you want to buy an affordable home now or in the next five years?
  • Do you need an affordable rental unit now or in the next five years?

Yukimura said the questions were too general in nature, and that county leaders should have asked respondents whether they plan to buy homes in the future, and whether they could afford them.

Answers to those questions could give county officials a better grasp of how to respond to the housing needs of residents, Yukimura said.

“What people want isn’t necessarily what will lead to people actually being able to buy homes if you build them in a neighborhood,” she said.

If a thousand respondents said they wanted to buy homes across the island or in Koloa, to be specific, and the county has them built and they aren’t bought, “you are going to have wasted an incredible amount of energy,” Yukimura said.

Carvalho said he didn’t see it the same way.

“The point of the survey was a grassroots attempt to find out the need for affordable housing from Kaua’i residents,” he said. “And it came about through our efforts working closely with our staff.”

He acknowledged that professional pollsters could have done the job, but noted that the county-produced survey gave insight into what residents wanted in the way of affordable housing on the island.

That information could be used for a professional survey in the future, he added.

The fact that more than 400 people filled out the survey was “positive,” Carvalho said.

“What is positive?” Yukimura shot back.

“Well, I look at it as an opportunity to get whatever information possible which leads to the need, for, maybe, looking at ways to get more scientific information,” Carvalho said.

Yukimura questioned the validity of the survey.

“The first thing you have to know about this, any survey, is that the figures are statistically significant, that they actually represent some data you can rely on,” Yukimura said.

She said the small number of respondents makes the survey results meaningless, a point Councilman Jay Furfaro agreed with.

“If you are doing a survey about customer uses in a hotel, for example, and you know your occupancy is made up of 5,000 repeat guests, and you send a questionnaire to them, and only 50 respond, then what is happening is the sample doesn’t have a great deal of integrity,” Furfaro said. “And I think that is what Councilwoman Yukimura is asking.”

Furfaro said that, “unless you have a 25-percent sampling of those you surveyed, often the information is considered inadequate.”

Carvalho said he wished more folks had filled out the survey, but that wasn’t the case, and that survey numbers speak for themselves.

Council Chairman Kaipo Asing said he found some of the survey results suspect.

The survey noted that Kaumakani had the lowest average monthly rent on Kaua’i, and Princeville had the highest average rent across the island.

Rents averaged $392.86 a month in Kaumakani, and rents at Princeville averaged $1,100 a month.

Asing indicated that those figures might not be accurate, considering the high cost of housing and rentals in many parts of the island today.

Those figures, he said, didn’t make any sense to him.

“$300 rent, $600 rent. I don’t know where those figures come from,” he said. “Are those real figures?”

Carvalho responded: “That is the average we got, from the people who filled out the survey.”

Among other findings, the survey showed:

  • Renters view Lihu’e and then Kapa’a as the first and second best places to live on the island;
  • Renters also saw Princeville as the least desirable place in which to rent a dwelling;
  • Waimea had the lowest average home mortgage, at $450 a month;
  • Wailua had the highest average mortgage, at $1,182.50.

Unlike other surveys, the county survey asked respondents to provide their names, addresses and telephone numbers.

Carvalho said County Housing Agency officials could use the information to help folks get into government programs that could help prepare them for the day when they buy a home.

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