The PAL Papers: Can Kaua‘i recover from COVID-19? If so, how?

Full disclosure: I have looked very deeply into my crystal ball and I can’t see a (blank) thing in it.

In other words, I don’t know.

Nobody does.

Having lived on Kaua‘i since 1974, I can tell you that I am confident in you. In us. ‘Iniki was one of the most powerful storms in history, at that time. Not exactly water off a duck’s back, but we did it. We made it through.

And I have faith we will again. My goal, in this column, is to identify the serious issues that we might face and offer solutions, hope, encouragement and suggestions for how to cope with the uncertainty.

For four years, I — along with many other dedicated people — have been trying to figure out how to solve the “Gradual Tragedy” of the shrinking inventory of truly and permanently affordable housing on Kaua‘i.

The clear and present danger is that it might not be “Gradual” anymore. COVID-19 could soon explode our housing crisis into a full-blown tragedy! And it could affect and change ALL of our lives: Politicians, business owners and, of course (by far the mostly deeply) the soul of our island, our local families and farm workers!

We all know that they are currently leaving their ancestral homeland by the droves! They just can’t hang onto this little rock any longer! We just pray that COVID-19 doesn’t make it much worse!

In Hawai‘i, most of us know about tsunamis. If some level of government doesn’t figure out how to stop it — from my perspective — we are standing on the shore watching the tide pull way out! We can see the rocks, the coral that we never see, and we can see the fish flopping.

If an unprecedented solution is not reached — and it (almost) must come from the federal level — a huge economic tsunami could soon roll in on us, built out of historic unemployment, depression-era evictions and foreclosures and unfathomable homelessness!

It is estimated that, without immediate and powerful intervention, there is at least a 30% chance that America and Hawai‘i could have “Great Depression” levels of homelessness by year’s end. As many as 40 million Americans could face eviction by the end of the year if the federal government doesn’t come up with significant financial assistance and tenant protections.

If landlords can’t cover lost rental payments out of their own pockets or through credit, they’ll face foreclosure and bankruptcy, disrupting an already-strained market for affordable housing. This could create a new wave of poverty. This could end up as one of the greatest transfers of wealth — from the financially challenged to the wealthy — in history.

As happens in every market downturn, the wealthy are currently moving into a “cash position,” preparing to scoop up all of those incredible homes that are foreclosed! Plus, many more wealthy families and investors are likely to move to Kaua‘i, displacing local residents and raising the cost of living even higher. Right now, there are two homes for sale on the entire Kilauea plain for under a million bucks!

A word to the wise: now, more than ever, it’s so important for us to speak up and let our elected officials know that solutions MUST be found to these urgent matters — now! Did I say NOW? In doing the work that we are doing, we have learned that they actually listen.

It is crucial that we all do our best to prepare for, and more importantly, prevent this potential tragedy. If we band together to support our ‘ohana, friends, coworkers and neighbors, as we did after ‘Iniki, our aloha and dedication can turn what could have been a tsunami into a double-overhead wave. Surf’s up!

So, folks, if something isn’t done and we don’t prepare, we could be in very deep kimchee!

Meanwhile, what can we do?

w Expect the unexpected — which has become the new norm;

w As with any storm or tsunami, start preparing now;

w Analyze your financial future, particularly if you have no income or it is threatened.

How long can you last? Tighten down. Don’t spend anything that you don’t need to spend.

If you get in trouble, is there anyone who can and will help? Do you have valuables you can sell?

Try to figure out how to arrange more income. Is there a part of your home you can rent? If so, be fair to your tenants. We are literally all on this island together. Those who have vacation rentals could consider converting to long-term rentals. The county will grant homestead tax rate, in some cases, if the rental price is reasonable!

w Solar panels can reduce energy costs and even, in some cases, your monthly payment. Our contact information is below so you can learn more;

w Do not freak out. Although, if you do, don’t get down on yourself. Some emotional turmoil is to be expected in these radical times. Make daily efforts to reduce stress and stay connected to family and friends. Take deep breaths. Consider creative outlets and/or meditation to make it easier to cope;

w Planting a garden can reduce stress, increase happiness and reduce dependence on expensive, store-bought food. If you haven’t done it before, Google it and start early. Do it with friends or relatives. There’s a learning curve and it’s really hard work;

w Get involved in local government. Get to know your councilmembers and state representatives. Many are running for office now so there is no better time to bend their ears! See their contacts below.

Express your thoughts and concerns to all politicians.

w Stick together and help each other. And hang in there;

w See our “Helpful Resources” below;

w Think about how we can build a better future and share your visions with everybody.

I believe the only ways we can be sure to avert tragedy are:

w Through a profound transformation of our super-well-heeled, so that they suddenly have true and deep empathy for those who do most of the work, and/or;

w Through a vast and sweeping change in the systemic way our governments handle the wealth distribution of our nation and states.

When will there ever be a better time to re-think and re-design our “More Perfect Union” than in the midst of a life-changing, worldwide pandemic? Tragedy brings opportunity. The opportunity for a better future is here now. HANG IN THERE – TOGETHER … WE CAN MAKE IT! Carpe Diem!

Important contacts

County councilmembers:

Arryl Kaneshiro – Chairman, 241-4093, ajkaneshiro@kauai.gov;

Ross Kagawa — Vice Chair, 241-4094, rkagawa@kauai.gov;

Mason K. Chock — 241-4098, mchock@kauai.gov;

Felicia Cowden — 652-4363, fcowden@kauai.gov;

Luke Evslin — 635-6623, levslin@kauai.gov;

KipuKai Kuali‘i — 652-3684, kkualii@kauai.gov;

Legislators who represent Kaua‘i:

State Sen. Ronald D. Kouchi, president, (808)-586-6031, senkouchi@Capitol.hawaii.gov;

State Rep. Nadine K. Nakumura, (808)-586-8437, repnakamura@Capitol.hawaii.gov;

State Rep. Dee Morikawa, majority floor leader, (808)-586-6280, repmorikawa@Capitol.hawaii.gov;

State Rep. James Kunane Tokioka, (808)-586-6270, reptokioka@Capitol.hawaii.gov.

Senators in Washington:

Brian Schatz, 202-224-3934, schatz.senate.gov/contact, Kauai@schatz.senate.gov;

Mazie Hirono, (202) 224-6361, hirono.senate.gov/contact.

Kaua‘i representative in Washington:

Tulsi Gabbard, (202) 225-4906, TulsiOffice@mail.house.gov.

Helpful resources:

Alanon/Alateen, 246-1116;

Alcoholics Anonymous, 245-6677;

Catholic Charities Hawai‘i, 246-2400;

Child &Family Service, 245-5914;

State Department of Health School Mokihana Project, 274-3883;

Hina Mauka Teen C.A.R.E., 821-4401, ext. 183 (Kapa‘a High);

821-4470, ext. 196 (Kapa‘a Middle School);

274-3173, ext. 241 (Kaua‘i High);

338-6810, ext. 119 (Waimea High);

338-6830, ext. 181 (Waimea Canyon Middle School);

241-3200, ext. 311 (Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School)

State Department of Health Kaua‘i Community Health Center, 240-0184 or 240-0154;

Kaua‘i Drug Court Adult Program, 482-2362;

Friends of the Kaua‘i Drug Court, 482-2362;

Kaua‘i Drug Court administrator, 482-2362;

Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity Inc., 245-4077;

Kaua‘i Veterans Center, 246-1163;

Hina Mauka Recovery Center, 245-8883;

Ke Ala Pono Recovery Centers, 246-0663;

Love the Journey, 652-3879;

Maluhia Treatment Services, 823-8933;

Narcotics Anonymous Kaua‘i 212-0114;

The Salvation Army Hanapepe Corps, 335-5441;

Samuel Mahelona Memorial Hospital detoxification services, 823-4180;

Women in Need, 245-1996;

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255;

Veterans Crisis Line, 800-273-8255;

Hawai‘i Crisis Line 800-753-6879.

•••

Jim Edmonds is president of PAL Kaua‘i, the nonprofit Permanently Affordable Living, and can be reached at Jim@PAL-Kauai.org.

10 Comments
  1. Ehu August 23, 2020 12:39 am Reply

    Wow! Talk about supercharged pessimism. I rather think that Hawaiians are resilient, and if they weathered WWII, they can weather any storm as the spirit of O’hana is a powerful force.

    Someone forgot to read history of the islands, or they are just trying to scare innocent people.


    1. Kim Veilleux August 23, 2020 10:59 am Reply

      You offer some good advice.
      I will go further and say to pay attention to our politician’s campaign speeches now and vote! The Democrats have the most hopeful economic recovery plan!


    2. Norm Smith August 23, 2020 5:49 pm Reply

      I’m hopeful that the Hawaiians will have the will and the legal strength to succeed from the United States of America….. And to finally control their own destiny


  2. Joe - Yucaipa, CA August 23, 2020 6:20 am Reply

    I was enjoying your article until I read this: “Through a vast and sweeping change in the systemic way our governments handle the wealth distribution of our nation and states.” How disappointing to read. Unless I’m reading it wrong, you want others to support TAKING from the EARNERS, and GIVING it to the wanters. I hope I’m wrong. This mentality is the core thinking of the recurring violent riots in Portland and other locations. A person gains self respect by earning (if they are able), not taking. They lose respect by taking.

    You also left out the most important part of a persons life, their faith. Faith and trust in God is the greatest of all gifts we can posses during all events in our short lives. And we all have the free will to accept God or not.

    Unknowns occur every day, and we need to keep the faith that we will overcome the daily challenges we face. Compassion towards others is critical, with and without a belief in God.

    Stay safe


  3. just saying August 23, 2020 6:24 am Reply

    This pandemic has greatly accelerated the number of people moving here. I think I notice this more than others as we have so many new customers. Grateful for their business. As soon as the 14 day quarantine lifts this migration will likely accelerate.

    Another disturbing factor looking forward is that with the loss of tourism jobs, and the soon to come end of federal relief funds, many locals will have very little choice other than to move off the island.

    There is all this buzz about replacing tourism by diversifying Kauai’s economy. I agree. We’ve had this talk for years but with very little success. We should keep trying to diversify, however tourism for the short term is the only way to retain income for our working class population. Most of the new residents come with passive income and see Kauai’s future threatened by tourism. They would have tourism go away if possible.


  4. james August 23, 2020 7:22 am Reply

    Things change; they always have. Look at the Bay Area. It became unaffordable well before Covid reared it’s ugly head. Locals, born and raised in the Bay Area moved to less expensive parts of the Country. Same with Kauai. Well before Covid we were seeing a transformation because Kauai remains a coveted place to live. This is the free market working properly. As to “wealth distribution…” I’m not sure what you are talking about or what your specific solutions would be if you put them forward. What does this mean exactly? Higher taxes for the uber-wealthy? OK, I’m good with that. Maintaining social programs funded by the Government? OK, I’m a proponent of SS and Medicare and other such programs. What else do you have in mind?


  5. Kauaidoug August 23, 2020 8:52 am Reply

    Wise words all the way around to consider. This pandemic has shined a spotlight on our societal and governmental shortfalls. And I fear you are right about the coming cash shortfalls and the wealthy who will be able to take advantage of this tragedy. This have- have not struggle is a close cousin of the systemic racism we have heard about recently except this cuts across all ethnic boundaries and works against your liquid assets instead of the color of your skin.


  6. MisterM August 23, 2020 10:28 am Reply

    Whatever happen to sweat equity? Get off social media, get off your lazy backside, dig ditches, swing a hammer, clean sewers, whatever it takes to save to buy a lot or fixer-upper. Stop having kids you can’t afford – there’s 8B of us already and we don’t need another mouth to feed. It takes is hard work and determination (shocker!) to succeed. But no, all we hear is the ‘government’ is the solution and that we have no control over our future – and that we should rely on some form of handouts/subsidies to bail us out. These woe-is-me articles do a huge disservice to those in need – all-too-many need a boot up their backside far more than they need -another – handout.


    1. Loladog August 25, 2020 4:36 pm Reply

      Right on, MisterM,
      Sweat equity. Get off of your lazy backsides indeed!
      Woof!


  7. truth be known September 27, 2020 2:18 pm Reply

    I find it ironic that the Polynesians, the latest inhabitants of the Hawaiian Islands, who drove off the original inhabitants, the Marquesans, are themselves being forced from the islands by the latest arrival, the Greedybasterians, carpetbaggers of the modern era.


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