Bill exemptions would harm efforts to provide affordable housing

  • Contributed

    Former mayor and former county councilmember JoAnn A. Yukimura

We all know that Kaua‘i has a severe affordable-housing shortage.

The coronavirus is making it worse. People with means are fleeing the cities to come to a rural place like Kaua‘i with low infection rates. Off-island demand is keeping housing prices and rents beyond the means of most local families.

The current General Plan says that “a fair and effective housing ordinance” is key to providing affordable housing.

Ordinance 860, the county housing law, was passed in 2007. It codified a government practice long used on Kaua‘i called “inclusionary zoning.” Through the zoning process, inclusionary zoning seeks to ensure that affordable housing is included (possibly located elsewhere) in every residential and resort development built on Kaua‘i.

The idea behind inclusionary zoning is that development rights are a privilege granted by government to a developer when the proposed development can be shown to benefit the community. Because the affordable-housing problem is caused in part by land development and tourism, government has the power to require a developer to provide a certain number of affordable units as a condition of zoning in exchange for the privilege of developing the property.

Prior to Ordinance 860, the mayor and the council required the building of affordable housing through zoning conditions on a case-by-case basis. Of the eight developments mentioned in Curtis Bedwell’s recent column (The Garden Island Forum, Aug. 11), five were inclusionary-zoning projects. While they were required prior to Ordinance 860, they were REQUIRED just the same, and provided affordable housing at a time when nothing else was being built.

Bill 2774 exempts all landowner/developers in the town cores of Lihu‘e, Koloa, Kalaheo, as well as multifamily developments with R-10 or greater densities, eliminating the affordable-housing requirement for those developments. If these areas of Kaua‘i where we want growth are exempted, there is no assurance there will be affordable housing in such areas, and the effort to provide affordable homes will be set back.

Of all the affordable housing built on Kaua‘i between 1975 and 2019 (not including state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands housing), 43%, or 1,142 units, were produced by inclusionary zoning. This includes units in Kawaihau Estates in Kapa‘a; Pu‘u Nani, Kilauea Self Help Housing and Kilauea Estates in Kilauea; Komohana Subdivision, Hokulei Estates and Halelani Village in Puhi; Hanapepe Self-Help Housing and ‘Ele‘ele Nani I and II in ‘Ele‘ele; Courtyards at Waipouli; Komamalu in Lihu‘e; Pa‘anau Village and Koa‘e Makana in Koloa; and Kolopua in Princeville.

Imagine if these developments had been exempted from inclusionary zoning. Where would the 1,142 families be today —and what kind of housing problem would we have?

Supporters of Bill 2774 say that the exempted units will be smaller and denser and, therefore, cheaper, but they give no evidence that the units will be affordable. We are not just talking about families at 120% area median income (AMI). We must include families with incomes ranging from less than 50% to 100% AMI, the majority of Kaua‘i’s families.

The exempt units will not be covered by the proposed 50-year affordability requirement either. If the past is any indication, market prices will soon put these houses out of reach of the families who need them.

The proposed exemptions effectively “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” They are based on a flawed analysis that blames the shortage of affordable housing on Ordinance 860 without considering factors such as the crash of 2008 and the history of affordable housing on Kaua‘i that shows how critical inclusionary zoning has been in providing affordable housing for today.

A fairer solution to spur development is to lower the affordable-housing percentage from 30% to 20% and require the developer’s contribution to be in the form of land and offsite infrastructure to support the number of units owed.

This approach is a “win-win.” The county takes on the responsibility (and cost) of building the vertical structures, reducing the developer’s obligation. Because the developer has to secure land and infrastructure for the market units anyway, this approach makes it easier for the developer to contribute affordable housing (assuming the affordable housing is in the same area). A real-life example of this win-win approach is the 133 affordable-housing units of Koa‘e Makana in Po‘ipu.

Best of all, the housing will be permanently affordable. Even when the buildings must be replaced, the land will be owned by the county and can be used again for affordable housing, whether for rentals or for ownership through 99-year leaseholds.

Finding a way to make housing affordable for the long term is critical to solving the affordable-housing problem on Kaua‘i. If the affordability requirement is for 10, 20 or 50 years, decision-makers are simply kicking the housing problem down the road. They are saying that future generations will not need affordable housing.

A fair and effective housing law will ensure that developers, in exchange for the privilege of developing land, will contribute a share of permanently-affordable housing. The requirement can be made fair and reasonable by reducing the percentage requirement and requiring the default contribution to be in the form of land and offsite infrastructure. Developer zoning conditions have provided a significant amount of affordable housing on Kaua‘i over the last 40 years. Exempting development from the housing law, especially where growth is desired, would severely limit affordable housing on Kaua‘i.

(My previous commentary on long-term affordability can be found at


JoAnn A. Yukimura is the former mayor of Kaua‘i and served as a member of the Housing and Transportation Committee on the County Council for many years. She has supported, negotiated or helped to develop over 1,500 affordable-housing units on Kaua‘i over the last 40 years.

  1. nobody August 17, 2020 6:39 am Reply

    Yes, people are moving to Kauai in unprecedented numbers compounding the housing crisis. Once tourism is reopened, and the subsidies from the government stop, that’s when the real crisis will begin. For now everyone at least has money. Even with tourism back it will be weak. Many will not be rehired. There will be many visitor industry people looking for work in construction, etc. driving those down those wages. All of the efforts to diversify the economy will not even be close to enough to afford Kauai’s local population a house and a job.

    So what can we do?

    We need a radical change to the way we think about housing. Tiny, higher density, toilet. It’s the only way we can afford it. Better than a tent. Change zoning.

    We need tourism to come back quickly. (Are you listening Sue?) Don’t force Kauai residents to leave while “some of our country’s brightest minds” tell us how we are to reshape the economy. Tourism works. Diversify after putting food on the table.

    People are dumb.

  2. Ron z. August 17, 2020 6:53 am Reply

    What are these people thinking . Where are all these people going to live in a tent .a lot of the locals have to work two jobs just to survive . An with this pandemic the tourism is not at half standards that means the hotel ,the restaurants, n the ones that work in the stores are getting hours cut how will all survive. I know government keep going up but the saying goes don’t live beyond your means. Let them start taking cuts not the ones that are trying to survive .start taxing the the tourists n the ones with second homes to pay for the housing.they can afford the increase.kauai needs affordable housing u are kicking out the locals where are we going to sleep.

  3. james August 17, 2020 7:38 am Reply

    ….”these areas of Kaua‘i where we want growth……” Who exactly is this “we” you mention? Does everyone really want Kauai to grow when we are already overwhelmed with traffic and our other infrastructure is overburdened? Let’s slow down with the growth and development talk until we solve our traffic and other problems. This build, build, build mentality ends up looking a lot like Oahu before you know it. Is that really why we live here on Kauai?

  4. Dick Moritz August 17, 2020 8:05 am Reply

    Bravo! Once again our former mayor summarizes the pertinent FACTS succinctly and provides historical context for a problem that has developed over many decades. Her
    proposal for addressing the problem now is appealing for its simplicity and its impact
    over the long term. Kauai County Council: Why not do this?

  5. RSW August 17, 2020 8:05 am Reply

    If people like JoAnn had even a freshman grasp of economics they would realize that it is their interference in the market that has actually caused the affordable housing issues. Notable economist like Thomas Sowell have documented this many times. Just the restrictive landuse/zoning ordinances alone are a huge impediment to the development of more housing. And, it is only more housing that will drive down prices and afford more people the ability to own a home.
    Their meddling has led them into the complex and obstructive realm of “inclusionary zoning” and a myriad of other band-aid policies in vain attempts to correct the problems they have created over the last four decades.
    Their behavior in insisting on market interference and obstruction and the failure to produce a solution is a perfect example of the definition of insanity–that is: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

    1. LJW August 17, 2020 4:13 pm Reply

      You mean the Thomas Sowell who supported Bork for the Supreme court?

      Do tell us which school gave you your Economics degree so we can avoid sending our kids there.

      1. RSW August 18, 2020 8:38 am Reply

        LJW…what a stunningly brilliant response! From your last sentence it is obvious that any rational discussion about economics is simply above your capacity. Your first sentence displays a blatantly ideological bent that shows you to be someone not worth discussing anything with.

        Thomas Sowell is a very fine economist and highly regarded…this below from Walter Williams, another highly regarded economist from George Mason University:
        “…Most of those familiar with Sowell’s writings do not have any idea about his early research interests in the history of economic thought. His dissertation, titled “Say’s Law and the General Glut Controversy,” analyzed the work of French economist Jean-Baptiste Say. His early research in the history of economic thought that appeared in refereed academic journals included writings on Sir Thomas Malthus, Thorstein Veblen, Karl Marx, Samuel Bailey and Jean Charles Leonard de Sismondi. These and later writings make up his 19 scholarly publications.
        Most academics do not publish that many scholarly articles in a lifetime. And, in addition, Sowell has written 56 books, among them “Say’s Law: An Historical Analysis,” “Knowledge and Decisions,” “A Conflict of Visions,” “Late-Talking Children,” “Basic Economics,” “Discrimination and Disparities” and most recently “Charter Schools and Their Enemies.” A full list of his publications can be found on his website.
        Sowell’s writings do not end with scholarly publications and books. He has authored 72 essays in periodicals and books, wrote 32 book reviews and was a regular columnist for Creators Syndicate for 25 years, Forbes magazine for eight years, Scripps Howard News Service from 1984 to 1990, and the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner from 1978 to 1980. Sowell has had occasional columns in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Washington Star, Newsweek, The Times (London), Newsday and The Stanford Daily. My colleague not only writes when you and I are asleep or enjoying ourselves, but he might write with two hands.
        Sowell cares about people. He believes that compassionate policy requires dispassionate analysis. He takes seriously the admonition given to physicians, “primum non nocere” (first, do no harm). In many respects, Sowell is an Austrian economist like the great Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek, who often talked about elites and their “pretense of knowledge.” These are people who believe that they have the ability and knowledge to organize society in a way better than people left to their own devices — what Hayek called the fatal conceit. Their vision requires the use of the coercive powers of government.”

        1. LJW August 19, 2020 5:04 pm Reply

          I hope you get the standard agent fee for all of that.

          “Your first sentence displays a blatantly ideological bent that shows you to be someone not worth discussing anything with.”

          And yet you produced the above tome.

          “From your last sentence it is obvious that any rational discussion about economics is simply above your capacity.”

          Ha, you have no idea, really. But thanks for trying to boost yourself off of his coattails. Good day, sir.

  6. Rev Dr Malama August 17, 2020 8:25 am Reply

    Pehaps the author might now consider fighting against the increasingly disproportionately mega wealthy????

    Miracles do happen and the Hawai’ian Kingdom does still exist as a government that is squashed and illegally occupied by usa….

    Retribution and return of all lands held unlawfuly is the only way to make Hawai’i great again.

    It is written.

  7. manawai August 17, 2020 9:35 am Reply

    ”Because the affordable-housing problem is caused in part by land development and tourism….”

    This shows how much Joanne’s logic (an attorney – not an economist) in her affordable housing programs have failed to materially improved the affordable housing crisis. It’s not development or tourism that has caused Kauai’s land prices to rise it’s the demand for it from everyone in the face of low supply caused by the county’s excessive regulations and Hawaii’s need to import all building materials via the Jones Act high-priced shipping costs. It’s also her ill-considered pie-in-the-sky food sustainability mantra that prevents building housing on ag lands. So, predictably, she accuses developers and tourists, the favored scapegoats because it certainly can’t be her failed programs. Joann, relatively nothing is being built because of you. A great example of the drawbridge effect. Remember, she was the person who prevented low cost food retailers from competing with her cousin’s food distribution business. She said it was to protect mom and pop stores (Biog Save?) which have either failed or sold out to larger corporations in any case. Again, this author only knows how to make laws but nothing about economics.

  8. Payback August 17, 2020 6:32 pm Reply

    JoAnn I thought you studied law at Stanford? Cuz your Facebook sez “Studied Psychology at Stanford University.” Just curious.

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