Tiny houses could bring big relief

  • Dennis Fujimoto / The Garden Island

    State Sen. Will Espero talks with guests at the blessing of the tiny house in September in Anahola.

LIHUE — Tiny houses could be a solution for Kauai’s tense rental market, as both landlords and renters on Kauai are stressed out about keeping a roof over their heads.

“Finding affordable long-term rentals on Kauai is becoming close to impossible,” said Michelle Ramsey, who has been searching for a new home with her husband for three months.

Ramsey’s landlord decided to sell their current unit, and after being notified, the couple began a search for somewhere new to live.

“The prices for units are astounding, not to mention the scammers using Craigslist to take advantage of anyone hoping to find some place affordable,” she said. “Many legitimate, available rentals are taken within hours of being advertised.”

“It looks like living on the beach may become a reality,” she said.

Landlords haven’t returned her calls. She and her husband are embarked on a “fruitless endeavor” she said, and they wonder if there’s anything to be done.

Dale Rosenfeld, who has been renting out space on her property in the Wailua Homesteads for more than 30 years, said she thinks opening up agriculture lands to house ag workers, and the introduction of tiny houses to the rental market could do the trick.

“I have a farm here and if I could put tiny houses and have people living in small areas,” she said. “That’s one of the things that could happen.”

She said allowing small dwellings on ag land could also help boost local agriculture and play into the interactive ecotourism industry by offering stay-and-farm options with farm tours and housing available for visitors.

Rosenfeld thinks that would help put money in landowners’ pockets and ease the financial burden.

“Having tiny houses and allowing farm dwellings will allow people to live on the ag land while they’re working there,” she said.

Over at Kauai Community College, students and teachers with the sustainability and carpentry departments have partnered together and created a 10-foot x 12-foot model that could work.

And in Anahola, Robin Danner’s tiny house project has produced two prototypes she’s aiming at the Native Hawaiian population with the vision of opening up the tiny house concept to all Hawaii families statewide.

“It is very exciting to work with these creatively designed tiny homes,” said Eric Knutzen, Kauai resident and former staff member at KCC who has worked on the college’s tiny house.

His focus was on helping design a converted 40-foot high-top containers for dwelling.

“I’m humbly appreciative to be a part of this new wave of housing to help address our housing needs,” he said.

While the number of rentals on the market is one challenge for both renters and landlords, Rosenfeld said she recently experienced a marked lack of effort when trying to rent out her space in December.

After advertising on a handful of social media sites — Craigslist among them — she had 50 people voice interest in her one bedroom space, which she was renting at $1,600 for a single person and $1,900 for two people.

That price includes utilities, parking spaces, and Rosenfeld takes care of the landscaping.

“I got nasty comments on my posts, saying ‘who can afford $1,900?’,” Rosenfeld said. “For two people who work, they can afford that. And, where there’s two people in a place, it’s more expensive.”

Rosenfeld’s standards for renting her unit were one or two people maximum who had transportation and didn’t smoke cigarettes.

She allows animals in her rental, which was deep cleaned and painted after her renters of four years moved out and left the place mold-ridden and dirty.

Recently, she checked out a rental unit on the Westside for a couple who needed on-island eyes for their search, and found a 500-square-foot room that was going for $2,000 per month. The space was divided into two rooms with a living room and a kitchen.

“You could barely turn around in any of the rooms and what the landlords were doing was planning on upping that rent to a two bedroom,” Rosenfeld said. “I think we should all give more than we take.”

A month in a hostel would cost around $1,400, she reasoned, and that’s not an appropriate situation for families.

“I’ve seen changes in how many people say they’re desperate for a place to say, but that being said, they aren’t considerate of my requests,” she said. “I got had 50 people respond to my listing and only five actually filled out an application.”

She continued: “So, all these people are desperate, but they’re desperate for housing and not willing to put any work in at the same time.”

Anahola resident Christie Thompson said she’s been combing social media, Craigslist and talking to people on the street for 45 days and has only seen two properties that are suitable. She was notified her landlord sold his house and was asked to move.

She has three small dogs, is employed full time, and has a potential roommate lined up.

The first place she saw was a screened lanai with a bathroom that was being hailed a studio for $1,100 per month. The second was listed as a two-bedroom, two-bath, for $1,700 plus utilities. Thompson said that and ended up being a 15 x 25 room with two smaller rooms attached.

“This is nearing a full-blown emergency situation here and I don’t just mean for me,” Thompson said.

Melissa Chadwick has been a Kauai resident for more than 10 years, is employed full time with two children. She doesn’t drink, smoke, do drugs, has no pets and is “super clean, no drama”, and hasn’t been able to find a place within her price range.

“All ads for studios say only one person, no children and sometimes even three-bedroom houses say only one person allowed,” she said. “Many say you must be vegan and very quiet and never home, basically.”

Melissa Miles, a single Kauai mother with two kids and three part-time jobs said she just received a 45-day notice after being a tenant for four years in her current space because the owners are selling the house.

“We are on HUD! We have no place to go,” she said.

On the North Shore, Contessa Pilson said her family is also on the verge of homelessness as their lease is up in January and they can’t find anything else to rent.

“It’s insane and most people find themselves camping until they can find a place,” she said.

Renters and landowners alike say the Kauai rental market is tumultuous and difficult to manage and tiny houses are just one possible solution to alleviate the pressure.

Many are just waiting for anything, and are hoping ideas will be implemented as soon as possible to provide real-world assistance to families that need a roof over their heads.

“We are struggling here,” Rosenfeld said.

  1. billyjoebob January 2, 2018 5:22 am Reply

    No Dale Rosenfeld I don’t think putting tiny houses on your ag lot will do the ” trick “.
    Think about it.

    1. bobby January 2, 2018 7:14 pm Reply

      What cannot afford $1900? Poor people in 3rd world State

      1. Antoni Lewandowski September 17, 2021 11:30 am Reply

        US real media household income is 67,521 – 1900 *12 is 22,800 which is roughly 1/3rd of it. Looks big. I know HAwaii is bigger at +80k, but still.

  2. Brother Izzy January 2, 2018 6:07 am Reply

    The Robinson family’s holdings on Kauai include nearly 51,000 acres, much of which is undeveloped. I guess they need it all? If they donated 10% it would hugely massively help the islanders. Why don’t the Robinson’s want to share?

  3. larry January 2, 2018 7:23 am Reply

    need to put the visitors and short term people in the Tiny Houses
    they only need a roof an a bed for their stay. most of them spend the day outside their dwelling. the larger dwellings could be used for actual residents. The whole world is Upside down and Backwards. hang in there

  4. Steve Martin January 2, 2018 7:40 am Reply

    I don’t think a tiny house is the answer for affordability. You have to put the tiny house somewhere and at the price of land the affordability is no longer there. You can’t just move a bunch of tiny houses on land without the permits and red tape of government. The infrastructure, utilities, sewage, and fee’s for such will not allow it to be affordable. And just what is “affordable” housing. Only the county and those receiving the housing money know for sure because it is them who take our property tax to fund it at any costs to us the providers of such funds. Development is not cheap, manufactured homes in a factory and leased land lots on state and county property would be a possible good solution. The county or state does the infrastructure and leases lots to potential home owners on a re-new able 25 year lease. People would qualify and purchase a manufactured home, $60to80k and move it onto a leased lot. A 3bed. rm.house and lot would cost $800 to $1,000 per month. When an acre costs nearly $700k the word “affordable” isn’t in the description .

  5. Amused January 2, 2018 7:45 am Reply

    No doubt Dale would love to open up ag lands to more rentals. Talk about self-serving! Not that she’s actually doing an ag, anyway. She’s the sort of person who should have her farm dwelling agreement revoked.

  6. Reverend Malama Robinson January 2, 2018 8:36 am Reply

    With much RESPECT and Aloha,

    Thanks Garden Island Newspaper for hearing our please to report on the matters and problems connected with Housing for Hawai’ian citizens.

    Reverend Dale certainly has good ideas and intentions but may I kindly point out that we must wake up and stand strong with Hawai’i as an occupied Nation and listen to those Kupuna with generations of knowledge of how to steer our own canoe towards peace and independence.

    MAHALO Ke Akua!


  7. jake liggett January 2, 2018 8:39 am Reply

    These won’t work unless you can fit three families who don’t believe in birth control into just one of them.

  8. gordon oswald January 2, 2018 9:03 am Reply

    Well let’s see. How about moving to the mainland? There are plenty of cheap houses, low rents, great areas, and opportunities available! God did not put you on earth with a “right” to live on a tiny speck of rock thousands of miles away from anywhere just because you’re a live human and you “want” to! Pay the price for living in paradise, or move. Lifestyle is not free. IT’S EARNED!

  9. JOSE E BULATAO January 2, 2018 9:10 am Reply

    In the “old days”, the sugar plantations used to have “single-men housing” with separate bedrooms clustered together. The men had shared kitchens and restrooms. Couldn’t something like this be made available along small housing units which may be “starter” homes for families? Whatever is provided, the emphasis should be on care and collaborative endeavor for maintenance so that such housing provisions do not turn into “slum” areas for the downdtrodden. Perhaps, a community garden along with parks and/or recreational facilities could be included.

  10. Jake January 2, 2018 1:11 pm Reply

    “I got nasty comments on my posts, saying ‘who can afford $1,900?’,” Rosenfeld said. “For two people who work, they can afford that. And, where there’s two people in a place, it’s more expensive.”

    I really don’t get these comments from people on the island. News Flash: All major Metropolitan cities on this planet are extremely expensive. Guess What? If your salary cannot support living there, then you move where the cost of living is much less. This is not rocket science, nor should you have this mentality that you have to stay on the island…..you are “owed” a piece of the rock . In the real world, people move all the time to find a better standard of living. Stop trying to fight supply-and-demand……..you will lose every time!!!

  11. bobby January 2, 2018 7:19 pm Reply

    You don’t know to much about the Robinson Family. They cannot sell their land, maybe land- lease

  12. KadirAyoob from SellAnyHome January 3, 2018 3:24 am Reply

    Tiny houses could bring big relief to people. But they need to be affordable as well.I just hope landlords dont spoil things and make it expensive to rent the homes. $1900 seems to be a huge amount for a rent.

  13. S. Murakami January 5, 2018 8:25 am Reply

    I felt compelled to respond to some of the comments and innuendo that the Robinsons aren’t sharing enough to alleviate the housing shortage on Kauai. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Robinson family has been caring for, nurturing, protecting and promoting the growth and well being of some of the last Hawaiians left on the planet, for generations. They have more than “contributed” their fair share of humanitarian munificence.
    With all due respect and best of luck to all of us trying to secure a piece of paradise: Aloha.

    1. 100% Hapa March 19, 2021 11:40 am Reply

      Well said.

  14. Angel wong May 7, 2018 12:46 pm Reply

    Where can I find more information on this? We went to look but was closed.

  15. Interested October 10, 2018 1:03 pm Reply

    I don’t know how much tiny houses would help the housing on Kauai rental-wise, but it could be nice to allow them in general. In terms of residential housing, only allowing long-term rentals (rather than vacation rentals) in new units could help–I believe this is already in effect. It would be nice to allow owners to live in tiny houses if they want too.

    It would be nice to see an article that talks about the current legalities of tiny houses and RVs on Kauai. That information has been difficult to find, not to mention contradictory at times.

  16. guy veloz January 2, 2019 11:10 pm Reply

    I would like to find out if buying a quarter of an acre of vacant land on Kauai and building a tiny house upon it is feasible and affordable.

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