Council passes tax break bill

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council unanimously voted Wednesday to give a tax break to people who rent their homes as long-term affordable housing.

“(We need to do) whatever we can do to try to increase the number of affordable rentals,” said Councilman Ross Kagawa.

Under Bill No. 2633, qualifying property owners will be able to apply for the homestead tax rate of $3.05. In years past, owners of long-term affordable housing were required to pay the residential tax rate of $6.05.

The bill defines “long-term affordable rentals” as a dwelling subject to a written lease agreement with a term of one year or more and at a monthly rent not to exceed the maximum housing cost based on 80 percent of the Kauai median household income.

“Our goal is clear about trying to make more affordable housing units available, so I’m very happy to vote for this bill, and grateful to the people who brought it forward,” said Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura.

But while passing the bill is a step in the right direction toward addressing the housing crisis on Kauai, there is work to do, said Council Chair Mel Rapozo.

“I don’t know if this is good enough, but this is the best we can do right now,” he said. “We have to start work on some measures and incentives for the affordable housing participants.”

The number of people renting their homes as long-term affordable rentals decreased in the last two years, said Ken Shimonishi, finance director for the County of Kauai. In fiscal year 2015, just over 1,500 people were participating in the affordable housing program. But, in FY 2016, that number decreased to 1,200.

Rapozo asked if there was a way to ask property owners why they stepped away from the program.

“We could send a mail-out of a brief questionnaire about why they left the program,” he said.

Yukimura agreed.

“Having data will help us make policy,” she said.

During public comment, Anne Punohu said the council should keep the needs of Kauai’s working class in mind.

“Long-term rentals are important, but the median income is too high,” she said. “You are going to accommodate people who are coming here from the Mainland and have money, but transient people don’t need long-term housing.”

Punohu likened Bill No. 2633 to rent control, which she said is needed on the island.

“You’re allowing people to charge $2,000 for a two-bedroom house on Craigslist,” she said. “I need this bill to help my people. A long-term rental is for someone who lives and works here, and has invested in this community, not someone who just lands on a plane and decides to make a life on Kauai.”

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