Strangers in exile from their own homeland

Evidence of Kaua‘i’s affordable housing crisis is everywhere we look — in the large number of homeless living in parks, cars and bushes … wherever.

In the crowding of several households into one home.

More than single families crowding into single-family homes; and the median house costs $862,500 on Kaua‘i. Which tells us that at least half the houses on Kaua‘i are far beyond the reach of most residents evident in the sense of hopelessness felt by many young people when they think about owning a home on Kaua‘i.

With Bill 2202 presently pending before the County Council, Kaua‘i finally has the opportunity to adopt a housing policy that could ensure sufficient-enough affordable housing into the future.

Everyone is affected.

To stimulate community discussion on this critical problem, I’d like to offer some preliminary thoughts.

The lack of affordable housing hurts everyone on Kaua‘i. Many friends or family members have left the island by necessity rather than choice because they can’t find a place to live. Employers, including government and nonprofits, can’t find enough qualified employees because those potential workers can’t find an affordable home on Kaua‘i. Teachers have homeless students or students in crowded homes who don’t have a quiet environment where they can concentrate and do their homework.

Some rents are sky high, while many renters have been lucky enough to buy homes, while many have essentially mortgaged their lives, with little left over to cover other basic needs after paying a monthly mortgage payment. Likewise for those paying high rents. Finally, Kaua‘i is in danger of becoming a community of mainly the wealthy.

The lack of affordable housing is a destabilizing factor in our community. It serves as fertile breeding grounds for a host of social problems, decreases the quality of life for our families and also negatively affects our economy. We all have a stake in finding effective solutions to the problem.

Key definitions and principles

To be “affordable” means that a family will not have to pay more than 303 percent of its household income to mortgage payments, utilities, or rent.

The median income on Kaua‘i for a family of four is presently $60,900, which means that half of the four-person families make more than $60,900 per year, and half make less.

An affordable house for a four-person family, based on the above definition of “affordable,” would be $212,000. Assuming a 5 percent downpayment and a 30-year fixed rate mortgage at 6.5 percent interest, the monthly mortgage payments would be $1,273 per month.

There are two guidelines I would suggest that we must keep in mind:

• As we fashion solutions to the affordable housing problem, we are not “just building houses,” we are building communities. We all want our communities on Kaua‘i to be close to work, schools, parks, bus stops and other needed services; They need to be of sturdy build and aesthetically pleasing. All affordable housing must meet these standards of “smart growth.”

• We need to first address the income groups where the housing need is the greatest and where our tax dollars can go the furthest.

An effective affordable housing program

Once we are successful in meeting the greatest need, we can address other needs.

To create adequate and sustainable affordable housing for our community, I believe the following are essential: Generally, every developer should be required to provide affordable housing as a specified percentage of affordable housing with every development project; That needs to be a clear rule that developers can count on and thus plan for. That percentage should be large enough to contribute substantially to our affordable housing inventory on Kaua‘i but not so large as to disable the development while not burdening the project to the point where it would no longer be economically feasible.

The required affordable housing should be developed on the same site as the developer’s market housing, to achieve our goal of creating mixed income neighborhoods. This percentage requirement should address the income brackets where the need is greatest and which is most logical for the private market to build. The percentage requirement should clarify which is the most logical for the private market to build — according to surveys — the 80 percent, or 120 percent of the median income bracket.

• Housing for families below 80 percent of the median income bracket is the hardest to provide because it requires the deepest subsidies. Government and the private sector must share this burden. Large developers should be required to dedicate a percentage of vacant land from their development project sites (including with offsite infrastructure) to the county to be developed by the county or a nonprofit housing group. Density bonuses could be granted to offset such a donation of land.

• All Affordable housing units provided under the affordable housing policy should be permanently affordable. “Permanently affordable housing” would include:

• Rental units that are owned and managed by government or nonprofits for the purpose of providing affordable housing, in perpetuity.

• Cooperative housing allowing ownership through shares in a limited equity housing cooperative.

• Housing where the land is owned by an affordable housing land trust whose purpose is to provide affordable housing. It also includes affordable for-purchase market houses for sale with a buy back clause in perpetuity.

Permanent affordability is one of the keys to solving our housing problem into the future. We have sold some of the most beautiful land on Earth in a world that is getting increasingly overpopulated, polluted and terrorized. Unless we insulate our affordable housing from this world market, we, and/or our children will become strangers in exile from their own homeland. This means that when we use zoning, the powers of zoning and our tax money dollars to create affordable housing, we cannot allow the first buyers to sell those units in the open market and make speculative profits at the expense of other qualified families who could otherwise have bought that house had it remained affordable.

Homes should be available where families need pay only 33 percent of their household income. But if we allow these families to make a windfall through units to be resold at market rates, at the expense of the taxpayer who subsidized the house and at the expense of the next qualifying family who will have one less affordable house to try for, we will never solve our housing problem.

As Councilmember Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho said recently, “We have to take care of each other.” Maybe we have to give up the “nest egg” so we, our children and our friends will be able to have a home. Remember, this would apply only to houses subsidized by the county or by private developers under zoning requirements — not to homes bought in the market without any subsidy.

• We could do all of the above but it will be to no avail if affordable housing programs fail, if our families are not “mortgage-ready,” or capable of making timely regular rent payments. The County Housing Agency and the Hawaii Homeownership Center are providing programs to help families become mortgage ready. Educational housing fairs are being held every Saturday of this month. Families can be prepped to be mortgage-ready at these events. Mortgage ready means being capable of making a down payment and timely monthly mortgage payments. The County Housing Agency and the Hawai‘i Homeownership Center are working together to hold the Educational Housing Fairs this month to connect potential homeowners to such help. Any potential first time homebuyers interested in securing affordable housing should attend. See www.kauai.gov.

• JoAnn Yukimura is a Kaua‘i County Council member and writes a monthly column for The Garden Island.

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