Affordable housing crisis: Hopeful suggestions for the government

Last month, we talked about what you can do to help with the affordable housing crisis — and now we talk politics. The majority of us have, at one time or another, experienced frustrations with state and county policies — especially in building, renting and paying taxes.

While trying hard to develop places Kauai families can afford, we have been working closely with the county and state, and we are very impressed with the many who are working diligently to address our housing need in Hawaii. We ask them to please pitch in to this effort — by making suggestions for us and helping to bring our suggestions to reality — when they ring true.

However, this is a desperate call to action, Kauai! Now. If you want to ensure that your children and their children have a future on Kauai, things need to change! With your help, we intend to do something about this.

Please look for this column each month in TGI. Whether you agree with us or not, please leave comments or show support on our HomeGrown Housing Facebook Page. Tell others about what we’re doing. Contact us if you can help. But, most importantly, voice your concerns and opinions with your local representatives (contact list below) and stay in touch with them.

Here are a few substantial suggestions that we hope will help. Look for more discussion on these important issues in future columns.

For the state:

w Designate large acreage near town cores — on the North Shore, the South Shore and the Westside — to provide for future truly affordable growth, and fund infrastructure now! Of the nearly 6 million people in Singapore, 80 percent of them live in housing developed by the government. We must move in that direction — or at least public/private partnerships in which the state supports developers of truly affordable homes. If you start a project today, it will be no less than 10 years before residency.

w Build that fourth lane in front of the Coco Palms and build at least two large, two-lane traffic circles (see more info about how efficient they are on our Facebook site; they are called “traffic calmers”) — one at Kuamoo, at the corner by Coco Palms, and one at the north end of Kapaa — to keep Kuhio Highway traffic moving while easily picking up Kawaihau, Hauaala and the bypass (which should be two lanes by then). We keep talking about being “sustainable” … so why would we put in more high-maintenance traffic lights that just slow everyone down and deteriorate from the Eastside’s salty trade winds?

Take heart … things are rapidly changing that will dramatically reduce traffic over the next 15 years — including companies like Uber and Lyft who will use self-driving cars to lower their cost radically and shared cars and bicycles. In any projects we do, we will strive to offer shared cars — studies have shown that one shared car saves up to 11 cars on the road! The average private car sits un-used 95 percent of the time. And to take this discussion to the seeming ridiculous: Dubai is planning to use automated drones to fly single passengers — this year!

w Establish a first-time home buyer savings account, allowing local residents to create monetary savings accounts — that result in tax savings — for down payments or other home purchase related expenses. A good example is a law passed in Mississippi which enables individuals to deduct up to $2,500 from state adjusted gross income annually, and couples filing jointly to deduct up to $5,000 annually from their state adjusted gross income. Interest earned on the account is also exempt from state gross income, and there is no cap on the aggregate amount that can be saved.

For the county to aid houseless and struggling people, now:

w Fine or increase taxes on landlords of homes or apartments left empty for more than three months (we have thousands) and contribute those funds directly to the County Affordable Housing Fund. Other locations have done this — with an immediate and dramatic reduction in rents.

w Allow guest houses to have legal kitchens and therefore become more livable rentals.

w Substantially increase the property tax rate for property owners who don’t live on Kauai and contribute the additional portion directly to the County Affordable Housing Fund. The Garden Island just reported that a 42 percent increase in direct flights to Kauai is predicted for next year! Visitors are buying about 45 percent of all homes sold now. Do the numbers.

w HUD voucher payments must be corrected to address the actual cost of rentals on the island. Educate the landlords about the benefits of renting to Section 8 tenants.

1. Consistent rent payment by the government

2. Targeted marketing

3. Large tenant base

4. Pre-screened tenants

5. Help your neighbors

6. Help the tenants learn to care for the home and landlord so everyone will want to rent to them.

Longer term solutions for the county:

w Expedite the building plan review process by developing a catalog of pre-approved plans. When anyone permits a house plan, give them a discount on their permit if they will allow those plans to be used by others — pre-permitted! This would save months and thousands of dollars when you’re trying to build a home.

w We all know that we must build truly affordable homes — so a very high priority is substantially increasing the funding for our Water Department — so they can provide improved and more sustainable infrastructure for current and future need.

w Immediately facilitate the permitting of tiny homes and micro- apartments — modular and/or pre-fabricated. Prepare to facilitate new and/or future, high-tech building options which may dramatically reduce the cost of building.

w Offer major tax breaks and permit facilitation for developers who volunteer to offer a greater percentage of “affordable homes” and/or guarantee truly affordable pricing.

w Immediately establish a “redevelopment entity/agency” to facilitate the ability of owners of long-term, empty commercial buildings to convert them to temporary or long-term residential occupancy — like the very successful senior housing in the Lihue Theater, established in 1997 by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. There might be no less expensive or immediate way to deal with homelessness.

Thank you for reading … and caring. If you’re still reading, you must! We sure hope these suggestions inspire you to get more involved, spark conversations at your dinner table and encourage you to start going to county and neighborhood meetings!

On this small island, in the middle of the largest body of water on the planet, our future is in our hands.

•••

Jim Edmonds is a 44-year resident of Hawaii and a real estate broker at Emerald Isle Properties in Kilauea since 1988. Taylor Kaluahine Reid, born and raised on the North Shore, is a University of Hawaii Manoa graduate and a Realtor at Emerald Isle Properties.

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