KAPAA — Creative thinking is the key to finding affordable housing solutions for medium income families, said Sandi Combs.
“Some of our traditional ways that have been solutions in the past are not working, so we got to start thinking outside the box,” she said.
Combs, a Republican who is running for District 14 House of Representatives, addressed about 75 people at the Kapaa Neighborhood Center Thursday night. She, along with the Democratic candidate, Nadine Nakamura, participated in a candidate forum hosted by the Kauai Chamber of Commerce.
One way is partnering with the community and private companies to provide housing, Combs said, whether that be allowing housing on farms or converting old retail space into condominiums.
“You have a perfectly good building for small condos in the old Sports Authority facility,” she said. “What if we made those condos and made it an affordable, walkable community? I’m not saying that’s a solution. But it’s about thinking outside of what is traditionally done is a possibility.”
For Nakamura, helping middle income earners find affordable housing comes with supporting organizations like Habitat for Humanity.
“It’s a project where moderate- and low-income families are able to own two- and three-bedroom homes. They do that by putting in sweat equity, which is the result of about 600 hours a year to reduce the cost of their homes,” she said.
Programs like that are the way to go, Nakamura said.
“We have to find land and strategically subsidize the infrastructure, because that is what reduces the cost of homes,” she said. “We need to partner with the private sector and nonprofits to share in the cost of infrastructure and housing a family has to pay.”
Other topics at the forum were complete streets and the decriminalization of marijuana.
When it comes to complete streets — which are used for bikers, walkers and drivers — on the island’s state roads, Nakamura believes the county needs to be strategic about where those streets will go.
“We don’t want complete streets in all areas. And complete streets may not be required in other areas because there’s not a lot of foot traffic,” she said. “We need to put them in the places where people want to walk and bike.”
Combs believes residents need to have a say on streets.
“The people who live in a community should make a decision about how the roads look like in their community,” she said. “We are struggling right now with the state road that runs through Kapaa that isn’t safe because of complete streets. We have bike paths, sidewalks, crosswalks and all kinds of things that are obstructing traffic and making it dangerous for people to drive in the community.”
Expecting people to ride a bike or bus to do their errands isn’t realistic, Combs added.
Combs also said there needs to be changes in the way the federal government views marijuana before the County of Kauai can support it for recreational use.
“Medical marijuana is already legal in the state and we’re facing a situation right now where the Health Department wants to release the private medical information of our patients to the federal government,” Combs said. “I wholeheartedly think that’s a problem — that it’s still a felony in the federal government to have marijuana.”
Before recreational marijuana becomes legal, there needs to be change at the federal level, she said.
Nakamura added: “As long as the federal government considers this a controlled substance, we need to be careful.”
Nakamura wants to make sure medical marijuana is done right before legalizing it for recreational use.
“The county wants to make sure this first experiment with medical marijuana is done right and there are systems in place to control it,” she said. “Let’s get it done right and then move on to recreational marijuana.”