LIHU‘E — Stakeholders, including developers and affordable-housing advocates, weighed in on what they like and don’t like about the county’s housing policy, and proposals on improving Ordinance 860.
The original policy has a requirement that developers building 10 or more units offer a percentage as “workforce-housing units” for people who don’t earn enough to afford a market-rate home and make too much to qualify for federal assistance.
Last Wednesday, the Kaua‘i County Council workshop-ed the policy.
Former Mayor JoAnn Yukimura has spoken out against the bill, urging for stronger measures to be taken toward affordable housing. She suggested an interest subsidiary or a general-obligation bond.
“Given the severity of the housing problem, and especially at the lower end, and the limited resources that we have, it seems that we need to address those families first before we address 140% (of area median income),” Yukimura said.
Milo Spindt, executive director of the nonprofit Kaua‘i Housing Development Corporation, on the other hand, shared that the 120% to 140% AMI would hinder developers.
“By increasing the restrictions and increasing the costs, how do we expect to develop more?” Spindt asked.
Mike Serpa, developer and founder of Concentric Development Group, shared his experience as a 25-year veteran in the field. He explained that the 120% to 140% AMI categories provide an insurance of sorts when “unpredictable” liabilities come about.
“If you take that top off, the model you show would lose a lot of money,” he said. “Keep in mind when you’re looking at a developer’s numbers.”
Serpa is currently developing a property in Koloa that doesn’t trigger the affordable-housing mandate, but the new ordinance could change how many viable units he’ll be able to profit off of.
“Quite frankly, I’m waiting on this housing policy to decide what to build there,” he said.
But Yukimura believes the ordinance should prioritize those who need assistance before the developers.
“It’s not elastic like it works in economic class,” Yukimura said. “You don’t define (the policy) by the needs of developers, you define it by the needs group first.”
Another piece of the proposed draft looks at creating exemptions on apartment-style, multi-family homes outside of Visitor Destination Areas through zoning R-10 or greater building to maximum density.
The General Plan from 2018 outlines where development would best suit the island. Through town and community plans, the exemptions from affordable-housing conditions are in the Lihu‘e, Koloa and Kalaheo special planning areas.
Adam Roversi, County Housing Agency director, said these exemptions come with a 10-year sunset to be revisited in the future.
And the future, amid the COVID-19 global pandemic, will affect Bill No. 2774, which is also on the table.
Karen Ono of the Kaua‘i Board of Realtors suggested that, because of the pandemic, people don’t want to live in town cores.
Councilmember Felicia Cowden also brought up that different areas of the island have different needs. In Lihu‘e, she said, there’s an opportunity for teachers and nurses, whereas out in Anahola there are fewer opportunities for jobs.
“People don’t drive an hour for a $15 an hour job. They might, but they don’t want to,” she said.
Roveri said that trying to differentiate the areas of the island could be “insurmountable.”
“I would suggest a VDA versus a residential distinction is about all that we are equipped to try to create.”
Because this was a workshop, the council did not vote on any specific amendments. The bill will continue to be discussed by the council, next on Wednesday, Sept. 9.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.