Lihue affordable housing proposal seeks input

Bill #2627 is a proposal with potential to significantly increase the inventory of affordable housing in the Lihue Community Planning area. Today at 1:30 p.m. a public hearing will be held and public input is needed, especially the input of residents in the Lihue, Hanamaulu and Puhi areas. Testimony may be provided in person or via email at counciltestimony@kauai.gov.

In summary if passed into law, Bill #2627 will allow certain qualifying properties in the Lihue Community Planning area to construct an “additional rental unit” (ARU) of no more than 800-square-feet. To qualify the property must provide additional off street parking, must have sufficient sewer and water availability and the total lot coverage cannot exceed present standards. In addition, the ARU structures may not be subdivided or CPR’d, transient rental operations are expressly forbidden and other restrictions apply.

This would allow qualifying property owners in Lihue the opportunity to create legal, quality livable space to rent to local residents for additional income, or for use by their parents, grandparents or adult children. The size restrictions prevent the building of very large additional homes and the prohibition against CPR’s prevents speculation and ensures the units will be for rental or family use only.

Bill #2627 is not an affordable housing panacea by any stretch of the imagination but it is a potentially significant measure that could increase the number of affordable rentals in this particular area. Lihue is served by a sewer system, is in a central location where many employment centers are located and is being designed to be a pedestrian and bicycle friendly community. Depending on the outcome in the Lihue area, the concept could possibly be extended to other areas. Capping the number of new ARU’s constructed and/or “sunsetting” the Legislation are options also being considered to ensure the program is not too successful too quickly and that impacts can properly be evaluated and adjustments made.

To encourage truly affordable rentals are constructed, incentives are being considered that could provide tax benefits to those owners who rent at affordable levels.

The success of this proposal is dependent on the quality of the discussion we have moving forward and the publics input, suggestions and ideas are essential.

In addition to Bill #2627 we are working on developing additional ideas to accelerate the new construction of affordable housing, for-purchase and for-rent projects alike, in all parts of the island. There are many challenges not the least of which is the extreme traffic congestion especially in the Kawaihau District and the extended length of time it takes to develop new housing “from the ground up.” We believe that Bill #2627 is potentially a way to increase the opportunities for new affordable rentals now that avoids both of these challenges.

The Lihue Community Plan, which was approved by the Council in June 2015, states that “the County is anticipated to need an additional 10,000 new housing units to accommodate its resident population between 2010 and 2035. The Lihue district is expected to absorb nearly half of this increase, which would mean adding approximately 4,600 units to its current housing stock.” The plan further states that “approximately 2,000 units can be accommodated developments. The remaining 2,600 dwelling units and associated supporting infrastructure will need to be developed elsewhere within the Lihue district.”

In addition to this, the policy objectives for the Lihue Community Plan clearly identify the need to concentrate development within a 10-minute walking radius of the existing communities of Lihue, Puhi, and Hanamaulu.

As co-introducers of Bill #2627 we have consulted with various organizations in the community and worked closely with the county administration in its formulation and development. The measure has the support of the Kauai Department of Housing and has already gone through several hearings before the Kauai Planning Commission where it was passed out with a unanimous vote of approval.

The purpose of Bill #2627 is to encourage and accommodate the construction of additional rental units and to increase the number of affordable rental units in the Lihue Planning District without substantially altering existing neighborhood character.

With the support and input from the community, we believe this purpose can be achieved.

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This Op-Ed was written by Councilmember Mason Chock and Councilmember Gary Hooser.

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