Five steps to reduce the cost of housing on Kauai

  • Contributed photo

    Luke Evslin

Affordable housing can’t be defined simply by the cold efficiency of a government equation. It should mean that you can work just one full-time job, and afford to own a home. It should mean that you can buy groceries, take a vacation, and spend your weekends and evenings with your children without worrying about how you’re going to afford your rent or mortgage next month. It should mean that a Kauai kid can go off to college or trade-school and then afford to come back home when they’re done.

The following five steps can help us achieve true affordability for all Kauai residents while preserving our agricultural land and reducing the amount of time we spend in traffic.

1) We need to build more homes. Every study on affordability includes increasing supply as a prerequisite for affordability. This is the first decade since Statehood where home construction on Kauai has fallen far below our population growth — and it’s this lack of homes that is the driver of our exploding costs. While Habitat for Humanity and government subsidies are vital tools for building affordable housing, we will never have the resources to subsidize home construction for everyone who needs it. We need to harness the potential of the private market to work to our advantage by increasing the supply of homes according to the principles and policies of our General Plan. All new subdivisions should occur within or directly adjacent to existing towns to preserve open space and agricultural land, they should provide a mixture of commercial and residential space to ensure that jobs are integrated into the community and can be accessed without sitting in traffic, and the development should be compact and walkable.

2) We need to continually strive to make it easier for families to add on additional units for their parents, children, or long-term renters. Every home in a residential area should be able to add a detached ‘ohana unit or a second kitchen (or multiple of both if they are on sewer), kitchens should be allowed in guest houses on agricultural land, and we need to reduce the fees, regulations, and wait-times for these units to be approved. While the County Council has passed recent legislation allowing for both attached and detached ohana units in residential areas, neighborhood covenants (known as CC&Rs) currently prohibit the construction of both types of additional homes in the majority of neighborhoods. We all need to work with our homeowner’s associations to end these exclusionary practices.

3) We need to allow for more townhouses, condos and apartments in Lihue. The daily traffic into and out of Lihue is caused by the massive imbalance between jobs and housing in our main town. The only units that can be built within a truly affordable range for many young families are duplexes, triplexes, condos and apartments. These types of units allow young families to achieve the goal of home-ownership, build equity on their investment, and gain access to capital (such as home equity loans) to invest in small businesses or education. There are many policies to incentivize construction of higher density units, some of which the County Council is exploring right now.

4) We need to eliminate all illegal tourist accommodation units from the market. With twelve percent of our island’s housing stock going towards visitor accommodations, we need to do all we can to ensure that our housing units are going to residents and not visitors. While the continued crackdown on individual units is necessary, the successful model for eliminating all illegal units comes from the City of San Francisco— which recently required that AirBnB and other online rental agencies only advertise permitted units. Overnight, 6,000 illegal units had to come down from their website. In one similar legislative act, we could eliminate the primary marketing device for every illegal unit on Kauai, putting them back into the long-term rental market.

5) We need to continue raising property taxes on vacant second homes and investment properties. One in four houses on Kauai is sitting mostly vacant as a second home. Tax policy should be meant not just to maximize revenue from them, but to convert them into resident housing.

Even if you already own a home and don’t have children trying to find one— these types of policies should still be important to you. Investing within our town cores increases government efficiency and reduces long term expenditures (as infrastructure is much more efficient within towns). Ensuring that homes are built close to jobs reduces our reliance on cars to decrease our contribution to traffic and climate change. As families have more to spend on goods and services instead of rent or mortgage cost, economic growth increases. When commercial areas are walkable with housing nearby, locally owned business are more profitable. Allowing for multifamily households with services nearby allows the elderly to more easily age at home. And all of this helps increase the diversity, liveability, and vibrancy of our towns.

This isn’t an easy conversation and there is no cookie-cutter solution for every town. That’s why we all need to get engaged, let’s talk about what works for our individual communities, and let’s all put those solutions into action.


Luke Evslin is a candidate for Kauai County Council.

  1. pat childs July 19, 2018 5:34 am Reply

    In fact these are excellent ideas and exactly what is needed, along with a vastly accelerated permitting process. Additionally, I would suggest that towns and industrial areas be permitted loft residential units, which would have the benefit of adding security as well as taking advantage of minimal cost and existing infrastructure. Lihue and Puhi, Hanapepe, Kapaa, Waimea come to mind.
    Lastly, the County has itself been an impediment. The cost of water meters, ‘affordable’ housing requirements or waivers, environmental fees, park dedication fees etc. have added so much additional cost to smaller housing projects that such have come to a near standstill.

  2. gordon oswald July 19, 2018 7:10 am Reply

    Thank you Mr. Evslin. You just lost my vote!

  3. Charlie Chimknee July 19, 2018 7:12 am Reply

    Aloha Luke,

    Your initial statement on your view of reality today is greatly outdated, and is not real when it applies to highly prized small island communities (Kaua’i) or even highly prized mainland cities such as your example in San Francisco.

    The picture of life as you believe it should be, is no longer feasible when it comes to the living conditions you have sighted.

    1.) you can work just one full-time job,
    2.) and afford to own a home.
    3.) you can buy groceries,
    4.) take a vacation,
    5.) spend your weekends and evenings with your children without worry today about how you’re going to afford your rent or mortgage next month.
    6.) It should mean that a Kauai kid can go off to college or trade-school
    7.) and then afford to come back home when they’re done ( and then Luke, we assume they can continue the process you imagine and live out their life of much leisure).

    First of all, when you say VACATION, do you mean camping for a weekend at Polihale, or do you mean 3 weeks in Europe each summer?

    When you say mass employment in Lihue do you mean the State and County and Big Box workers and the empty lone shopping center and the other few shops, professional offices, and restaurants? Not sure of the government workers but the rest are, other than the doctors and lawyers, etc., are on, at, or near minimum wages, and unable to afford a home.

    Some of your other proposals are based on OPM, Other People’s Money, wherever they may be, when you mention Federal, State, and County sources of money. What about when one is raised to stand on their own 2 feet, or 4, if you are a couple. We all can’t live on assisted living or welfare. And you can’t qualify for a bank loan without a 20% Down Payment and proof you can pay all your bills and the new mortgage of $300 or $400 thousand dollars.

    Please see this critique as an invitation to accept this challenge and come back, and come up, with more feasible ideas on Affordable Housing.

    Due to my own jobs’ time restraints I will need to cut this short and return later to challenge you more.

    We are looking forward to seeing a thinking person such as yourself on the new Council.



  4. James July 19, 2018 7:33 am Reply

    More development means more people and less open space. It also means more traffic and more abuse of our overloaded infrastructure. The only part of your items out of your 5 suggestions that I agree with are numbers 4 and 5 (if 5 is legal, which is questionable.) Increased enforcement of illegal short term rentals doesn’t increase traffic and does provide more long term rental opportunity. Kauai is special because is it still not over developed like Oahu. Let’s keep it that way.

  5. Uncleaina July 19, 2018 7:43 am Reply

    I like the way you’re not asking for tons of tax money as your first reaction!

  6. kimo July 19, 2018 8:10 am Reply

    Excellent recommendations! There are many ways to attack the affordable housing problem. Thanks for your ideas and good luck in your quest for a Council seat. You have my vote.

  7. Kona Kaniaulono July 19, 2018 9:09 am Reply

    Luke, thanks for making it clear, I no vote fo you!

  8. billyjoebob July 19, 2018 9:12 am Reply

    Biggest problem I see is money management. People can’t even budget school supplies, vehicles and food for their children how are they going to manage owning a home. Most are buried in debt, so a down payment is out of the question. Then there is upkeep, unexpected things pop up. Very expensive things.
    Best of success.

    1. Charlie Chimknee July 20, 2018 9:57 pm Reply

      Aloha Kakou,

      Hmmm, things that pop up for home or rental owners are those pesky 24/7 MONSTERS:


      Who can keep up with them, and afford it both.

      Home ownership is a battle, besides raking up the leaves and putting up with the Hurricanes…



  9. paulo July 19, 2018 10:27 am Reply

    Everything sounds good like one full time job being adequate to make a house payment. And a vacation too? Probably not. Almost anyone who bought their first house over the decades had to give up extras for multiple years, including vacations, to make that house payment. The problem is our jobs do not pay enough for a house payment these days, even with no extras of any kind.

    As far as building more homes to lower the price. Where has that been the result? Take a look at California, they built, they keep building. And their home prices? Higher than ours.

  10. Oingo boingo July 19, 2018 3:53 pm Reply

    Sounds good to me…..lets do it…

  11. MisterM July 19, 2018 6:55 pm Reply

    Nice to read very commonsensical ideas – honestly, had expected the usual socialist diatribe.

  12. Sandy July 21, 2018 8:39 am Reply

    More development? We are over crowded as is! Not enough infrastructure right now, and you want to build more so we have more people? That is plain craziness? What roads are all of these people going to drive on? And if you think we can build new roads, where will we place these said roads? Dream on! My vote will NOT be for you.

  13. Sue July 21, 2018 8:46 am Reply

    What developer is in your pocket? Compact and walkable neighborhoods? Sounds just like the cookie cutter places they build on the mainland! Those places are poorly made and all look the same. You can spit on your neighbor from your window. The developers make mint while the homeowner pays exorbitant association fees. Sounds like you want to turn us into So. Cal! Let’s keep Kauai rural, please.

  14. numilalocal July 21, 2018 10:40 am Reply

    As long as demand exceeds supply, housing will be expensive.

  15. PauloT July 21, 2018 11:29 am Reply

    Why are my comments being help for days? I entered this one on July 19th and it says it’s still waiting for approval?

  16. PauloT July 21, 2018 11:31 am Reply

    Excuse me held, not helped. Staff must have thought it needed help.

  17. PauloT July 23, 2018 1:12 pm Reply

    Is this a joke? You list my comments about not posting my comment from 7/19 but not the comment itself.

    The comment was not controversial in anyway. And yet some you post some you do not, with no explanation of any kind.

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