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
(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 email@example.com before noon today, and/or share thoughts after that date with all seven councilmembers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.