Affordable housing, not so affordable

The term “workforce housing” is replacing the term “low-income housing” in a developing county housing policy.

The Housing Policy for the County of Kauai has passed out of committee and is now headed for the public for the second time. The first time was back in October 2006.

Once the public has its say, the County Council will get the chance to review the policy for possible approval.

The term “low-income housing” has now passed out of the common parlance of the county/developer dialogue … developers are not as interested in projects shackled with the low-income moniker.

“Workforce,” drafters of the policy hope, will be a more user-friendly term.

The “workforce housing” bill, as it is designed, will be triggered by resort, commercial and industrial developments seeking zoning amendments, or rezoning.

Those projects already zoned will not be held to the requirements of the workforce bill.

The Committee on Community Assistance and Intergovernmental Relations will hold the first hearing Tuesday seeking public input on Articles 2 and 3 specifically, from a total of 10 articles in a 20-page document.

Article 2 deals specifically with the 10 percent donation of land required for workforce housing, and the unit availability requirements according to income. Some 30 percent of total units will be available to the workforce.

The unit requirements are based on the 2006, median family income figure of $60,500 (from federal census figures), while putting a unit fee cap of $250,000 on the developer for the units they don’t build. The law says they must build, unless the county approves options.

The ability to acquire the units when they are built is categorized into several options depending on income. The leasehold purchase options are reserved for those at the lower end of the income spectrum.

Some 5 percent of the total units will be available for lease to families earning under the median income. Another 5 percent for lease will be available to those at the median income, while another 5 percent will be for those at 120 percent of the median, or $68,300.

Fee simple purchases are reserved for those at 140, 160, and 180 percent of the median. The 180 percent option is an income of $91,700.

The numbers apply for residential, resort, commercial and industrial developments. And though the bill is dubbed “affordable housing” a look at the numbers reveals it is hardly affordable.

The county wants testimony on this policy, and Tuesday will be the first opportunity. Truly affordable housing seems to be out of reach according to this bill.

A housing survey carried out by Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s administration late last year revealed 50 percent of Kaua‘i households earn below $50,000 a year.

There are no units for households at that income.

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