Eliminating affordable-housing mandate a bad idea

Kaua‘i County Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i and Council Chair Kaneshiro have introduced Bill 2774 that, if passed, will effectively eliminate the construction of any future workforce/affordable housing in the town cores of Lihu‘e, Koloa and Kalaheo.

Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up. I am sure Bill 2774 is well-intentioned, but I am even more sure it is seriously misguided.

Bill 2774, which is on today’s council agenda, proposes to eliminate for a period of 10 years the current law requiring at least 30% of all new housing development to be affordable.

The specific language of the proposed Bill 2774 states:

“Sec. 7A-1.4.2 Exemptions.

The workforce housing requirements of this Chapter, shall not apply to

the following:

(a) Projects within the following special planning areas and design

districts, developed at or above the maximum density allowed:

(1) Lihu‘e Town Core Urban Design District as defined in

Title IV, Chapter 10, Article 5A.

(2) Koloa Town Walkable Mixed-Use District as defined in

Title IV, Chapter 10, Article 6.

(3) Kalaheo Town Walkable Mixed-Use District as defined in

Title IV, Chapter 10, Article 6.”

(In addition to preventing low-income residents from living in the town cores, if passed by the council the construction of new affordable housing will also be eliminated in the below situations as well.)

“(b) Projects outside of Visitor Destination Areas and Special Management Areas in residential or mixed-use zoning districts with a density of R-10 or greater, consisting of multiple or single-family attached dwellings, developed at or above the maximum density allowed.

(c) Any affordable or workforce housing development developed by or for the County, either by itself or in partnership with another housing development organization, is exempt from the requirements of this Chapter.

(d) The exemptions in subsection (a) for special planning areas and design districts and in subsection (b) relating to zoning density shall expire ten (10) years from the date of their adoption.”

By eliminating the developer mandate to build a minimum number of workforce/affordable units, you can be assured that there will be no workforce/affordable units constructed. Instead of elimination, the council should consider incentivization. Don’t get rid of it, but rather make it more attractive.

I have written this in the past, and I will repeat it again here: “The invisible hand makes them do it. Without government serving as a counterbalance, the invisible hand of free enterprise drives all development to sell to the highest bidder. More homes built for the market do not create more affordable housing. The trickle-down theory does not work.”

Developers will build to the top of the market to maximize their profits. Those who believe the addition of market-priced inventory is going to somehow increase the inventory of affordable units have been reading far too much Adam Smith.

In Hawai‘i, affordable housing equals “below-market” housing, which will only be constructed if mandated by the government.

The council is proposing to create a housing policy that eliminates the requirement for developers to build workforce housing, thus making it more expensive for workers to live in town cores closest to their places of employment.

It is surreal.

Two years ago the Kaua‘i council doubled the density in the Lihu‘e urban core without obtaining any additional (above the existing 30% requirement) commitment from the landowners to build affordable housing. The value of these Rice Street properties was dramatically and instantly increased, and there was no reciprocal public benefit required by the council. Now, the council proposes to increase their largesse to these landowners and many others around the island even further by eliminating completely the meager workforce/affordable housing requirements now in place.

The council should turn this proposal on its head and increase the requirements for workforce/affordable housing just as they already increased the density. Further, the council should provide aggressive property-tax incentives and other measures that reward and incentivize the development of housing that local residents can actually afford.

Local residents who work in restaurants, offices and small businesses located on Lihu‘e, Kalaheo and Koloa deserve to be able to live, work and play in those same neighborhoods. We need more workforce/affordable housing in our town cores and not less.

Readers, residents and voters are encouraged to offer testimony via counciltestimony@kauai.gov before noon today, and/or share thoughts after that date with all seven councilmembers at councilmembers@kauai.gov.

Please, take the time and engage this issue with your Kaua‘i County Council.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.

  1. Ginger Doll July 8, 2020 5:02 am Reply

    If council would pass a minimum wage of $20 an hour, the need for affordable housing would be reduced.

  2. Westside Resident July 8, 2020 6:50 am Reply

    Tinkering with the market like this creates winners and losers as one person’s problem is shifted to another. That shift is engineered by those who believe they are ‘smarter’ than everyone else.

    But those who propose such ‘solutions’ ignore the losers, ignore the tradeoffs. Naivety on parade.

    Give us a free market society.

    1. Wrested July 9, 2020 5:07 am Reply

      …and I’m sure you’re not ignoring any negatives of a “free market”, are you? There really is no such thing. What is needed is a well regulated market. That means not too much and not too little. Things change over time, and that can(and should) be argued. But it’s bad faith to argue for none at all.

  3. manawai July 8, 2020 8:47 am Reply

    “A recent Op-Ed published in the The Garden Island made the claim that if this amendment were passed, every development anywhere on the island of over 10 units would be exempt from workforce-housing requirements. This claim is patently false. The proposed exemptions are narrowly targeted in limited areas to specifically support the development of multi-family projects, which can produce the most housing units at the lowest cost.”
    Adam Roversi, County Housing Director

  4. Z July 8, 2020 4:50 pm Reply

    Anyone who signs the bill against affordable housing should be hung by there/ . How soon they forgot who made kauai .been coming to kauai for almost 45years met n made a lot of friends n a lot have left for two reasons no affordable housing n 2 need to work more than one job to survive. Kauai lost all sense of value for the locals. They are selling the island to the highest bidders. They rather make this island a play ground for the rich n they could cre less. Kauai needs to take care of there own first. Look at all the changes that came in from the west coast esp . Jackinthebox all this place is california west not the kauai that we came to know. Help the ones that were born n raised in Kauai.

  5. Westside Resident July 9, 2020 6:46 am Reply

    Nobody has a birthright to live in any specific place. Find a peaceful place on this planet where that is the case.

    Furthermore, define ‘local’. And what makes you think everyone wants the island ruined by high density?

    The so-called locals are generally offspring of people who left a dire situation for better living. They the took a risk. They were already rewarded. Their offspring can do the same and find another place with more opportunity. Nobody is guaranteed an easy livng here.

    Finally, look at Oahu….we can’t build enough housing fast enough to meet demand. Why do you desire to ruin this island with density?

  6. shelly July 9, 2020 6:23 pm Reply

    County please take away restrictions to build housing for families. We are hoping to build an ADU on our Ag zoned land one day for our adult children- to live on our property and help us with farm producing. We have all the necessary infrastructure in place.

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