Affordable housing on Kauai should be a priority

We all know it’s expensive to live in Hawaii. It’s part of life in paradise. In general, food, utilities, and housing are higher than most places on the Mainland. But by watching sales, using coupons, reducing driving, being thrifty and conserving energy, there are ways to keep costs down when it comes to gasoline, groceries and paying for electricity to power a home.

But there really isn’t a way to avoid the high price of housing when it comes to renting. Anyone who lives on Kauai, particularly anyone who has moved here recently, is aware of the lack of what is referred to as affordable housing.

If you’re expecting to come across a two-bedroom apartment for $700 a month, or a three-bedroom house for $1,000, think again. It’s not there. Try doubling that. Many people are still trying to find an affordable place to live. Meantime, they make do by sleeping on couches and crashing with friends.

One North Shore business owner recently wrote the The Garden Island that his employees are having a difficult time just finding room to rent.

“They live in tents or vehicles or at county parks. They are just enthusiastic, young restaurant workers,” wrote Tom Pickett. “They are proud of their jobs and their skills. They are proud to be on their own and to be taking care of themselves. The only problem is they can’t find a place to stay.”

The numbers tell the story.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in 2015 there were more than 190,000 households renting in Hawaii. The average wage for these renters was $14.49 per hour. Meanwhile the hourly wage necessary to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Honolulu is $34.81, on Maui is $24.31, on Kauai is $23.50 and in Hawaii County is $22.13.

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Kauai is lack of affordable housing because it affects so much. Without affordable housing, families end up spending much of their income on housing and have too little for necessities like healthcare, food and transportation, not to mention higher education. Lack of affordable housing is more of a problem, you could argue, than traffic, potholed roads, rising taxes, crime and our dying coral.

Now, some might believe that’s a good thing because lack of housing will prompt folks to move back to the Mainland and offer relief for a crowded island. But Kauai doesn’t want to become just a playground for the rich and famous. It needs to have places where those with limited funds can still have a roof over their heads.

That’s why it’s a good thing that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $3 million in new funding from the National Housing Trust Fund to Hawaii for the development and preservation of affordable rental housing.

The funding will be available only to households with incomes at or below 30 percent of area median income and will be allocated through the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation.

Kauai is earmarked to receive $1.5 million. That’s great news. It addresses what likely would otherwise only worsen over time — and it still may, even with this money to address the situation.

“The housing challenges in Hawaii are due in no small part to a lack of inventory and the whole point of this money is to create units that can be used by individuals and families on the lower end of the income scale,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz.

This money, of course, isn’t a final solution. It’s not a permanent answer and wasn’t supposed to be one. But it is a step in the right direction. The creation of affordable housing should continue to be a priority for Hawaii’s elected officials.

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