Bill 2774 puts affordable housing in jeopardy

Poised for passage this Wednesday is Bill 2774, the most significant piece of legislation considered by the County Council this year on the most important issue facing Kauaʻi pre-COVID and post-COVID: The dire need for affordable housing.

Bill 2774 seeks to amend the county’s housing law, Ordinance 860, which codifies the use of inclusionary zoning, a tool used by the county to provide affordable housing for 40 years. Examples include Kawaihau Estates, Kolopua, ‘Ele‘ele Nani, Pa‘anau, Koa‘e, Halelani and Hokulei.

Tool that housed many families about to be gutted

The bill exempts from the county’s affordable-housing requirement all lands zoned for housing in the town cores of Lihu‘e, Koloa and Kalaheo, as well as any multifamily housing outside of a Visitor Destination Areas.

In the very places where we want to encourage growth, where we are pouring incentives and subsidies, where infrastructure is likely to be provided, where a car will be less needed (lowering family transportation costs), councilmembers supporting the exemptions are refusing to ensure that there will be affordable housing in these neighborhoods.

Based on estimates provided by the county Planning Department, the proposed exemptions would forgo the opportunity to require potentially 630 affordable units to be built as the exempted lands are being developed.

Councilmembers who support the exemptions say there will be affordable units in the town cores anyway because by exempting development from affordable-housing requirements, we will be encouraging development, thereby encouraging a greater number of units to be built, and thus bringing the price down.

They forget that the lack of infrastructure might not allow a supply large enough in a given time period to lower prices.

They also fail to recognize that COVID-free Kaua‘i is becoming a mecca for wealthy COVID “refugees” fleeing the mainland and seeking a safe and beautiful place to live, creating a demand that will keep the price for land and housing high.

Why would a developer want to sell the units for less if he can get higher prices and doesn’t have to provide affordable housing?

Some planners also cite a theory called “affordable by design.” They say that because the units will be smaller, they will be affordable. Less than a mile from Po‘ipu in Koloa town, or in beautiful Kalaheo, apartments will be affordable without a government requirement?

Several proponents admit that Bill 2774 is an experiment, but “only for 10 years.” Are we going to wait for 10 years to say, “Oh, shucks! We should have required those 630 units of affordable housing!”? Especially when we already know from the 40 years of stellar work by former housing directors, Chad Taniguchi, Mattie Yoshioka, Ken Rainforth and Gary Mackler what works and doesn’t work. (Former Housing Director Rainforth has testified that the exemptions don’t work).

Council should create housing law for all

What works is to make the affordable-housing requirement workable for developers without sacrificing the goal of providing affordable housing.

The council has taken the first step by amending the percentage of affordable-housing units required from 30% to 20%.

The developer’s burden can be further reduced by allowing the developer, in lieu of turnkey or finished units, to provide land and offsite infrastructure that supports the percentage of affordable housing required. This will further cut the developer’s cost significantly.

In the case of Koa‘e, the land-and-offsite-infrastructure formula saved the developer about $20 million. In return, the debate about 50- versus 30-year buybacks becomes irrelevant because the county owns the land and the units will be affordable for generations.

The biggest beneficiaries will be our families who would otherwise have to move off-island, the millennials who want to come home, and the lower-income, aging, baby-boomers on fixed incomes. There will be an ever-growing inventory of affordable housing insulated from the market that will provide housing for our families for a long time.

The council wants to approve the present draft before the new council comes onboard.

County Housing Agency Director Adam Roversi and some councilmembers say they will introduce a new bill and “fix” the new law in the next term, but it is not responsible to approve a fundamentally-flawed bill for expediency’s sake.

Let’s get it right the first time. Take the time to draft and approve an affordable-housing law that is fair to developers, practical for the county to implement and, most of all, provides the affordable housing that the people of Kaua‘i need and deserve.


JoAnn Yukimura is a former Kaua‘i mayor and councilmember who served for many years as chair of the council’s Housing Committee, and has supported, initiated or overseen the development of over 1,500 affordable homes on the island.

  1. randy kansas October 18, 2020 2:29 am Reply

    people are leaving our island and State in record numbers;

    and affordable housing is only a portion of the issue…

    high taxes, small business regulation, anti-business attitude, and red tape to even build a small ohana for grandma, for example;

    we are starting to look like California and New York, Portland and others…..there is a reason, folks are moving to Florida, Nevada, and Texas;

    1. you're correct! October 18, 2020 2:22 pm Reply

      and Kauai i has made it clear that business and developers’ capital is not welcome here.
      Capital and people go where they are treated best (Florida, Nevada, Texas); no one wants to invest in Kauai’s hostile, unwelcoming environment.

    2. james October 19, 2020 7:34 am Reply

      I don’t think the population of Kauai is decreasing at all. If anything, it is increasing. It is a fact that not everyone who wants to live here can afford to, just like San Francisco, and other desirable places to live. The main reason folks want to live here is that it is not crowded like Honolulu. Let’s not build, build, build until we lose what we love, which is the rural feel of the Island.

  2. Imua44 October 18, 2020 5:33 am Reply

    The law may not be perfect, but it is better than the existing law.. Ms Yukimura has never wanted housing for the people. She is perhaps the single most responsible person for lack of housing. Her years of antii development are evident in her past actions as Mayor and Council. The only housing Ms Yukimura has encouraged are her own Agricultural Condos and development by her many friends . Her legacy is no housing and the Mt Yukimura AKA Kekaha Landfill. Remember she also stopped a new landfill.

  3. Kauaidoug October 18, 2020 8:17 am Reply

    Does anyone understand this housing plan outside the ones who wrote it or promote it? This is a complete mystery to me.
    Do we have training on this island to create carpenters and home builders? Why can’t something like habitat for humanity be unleashed in these places in Lihue or is it that developers have a lock on this? What is really going on here?

    1. Reality Bites October 20, 2020 2:28 am Reply

      The only thing that will decrease the price of a house of Kauai will be FREE material and FREE labor, because the cost of living is high here, non skilled construction workers start at $25-$30 / hour.

      Thanks to the Jones Act, all materials brought on boat to the middle of the Pacific Ocean are extremely high. High cost of materials + high cost of living + expensive labor = High building costs.

      Habitat gets material and labor donated…..for the most part. Only way to build cheap.

  4. H October 18, 2020 8:51 am Reply

    I watched online the last council meeting when this was discussed. You should all watch it. The disrespect the men display towards Joanne and Felicia is terrible. Adam is so condescending! KipuKai pretty much pretends to hear nothing they say. And then Adam adds in an amendment that all the men nod and agree with, with practically no discussion. These guys just want to pass this bill for their own ego!

  5. RG DeSoto October 18, 2020 9:47 am Reply

    JoAnn Yukimura has always been a part of the problem…as the mayor and a council member. When political decisions are substituted for market ones no one is ever happy or satisfied. The reason there is little “affordable” housing can be laid right at the doorstep of the state and county’s morass of land use laws & regulations that do nothing except restrict the supply of building lots and housing. Moreover, the incredibly slow processing of building permits does nothing to help. This is the essence of political decisions surrounding land use and housing. Nothing good has ever come of it. It has simply driven up prices.
    If the tangle of zoning & building rules and regulations was eliminated or at least substantially reduced, market forces would ensure a much larger supply of building lots and all housing, including that considered “affordable”. This has been documented by many studies and is in evidence in places where housing is very affordable compared to Hawaii.
    RG DeSoto

    1. james October 19, 2020 7:39 am Reply

      I know you are a free market advocate, but do you really want uncontrolled, unregulated building here on Kauai to the point it looks like Honolulu or Houston? Is that how you envision Kauai? Is that what you want for your family?

      1. RG DeSoto October 19, 2020 3:43 pm Reply

        First off…yes I think that market forces would end most if not all of the dearth of housing that would be affordable to many more families. I do not believe that it would end with Kauai looking like major cities with hundreds of thousand and millions of people.
        Comparing Honolulu with Houston is not valid. Honolulu is a highly regulated politicized building market rife with crony capitalism and corrupt favoritism. It favors the very wealthy who can afford the process and have the ability to fund the political hacks, who will grant them special dispensation.
        Houston, on the other hand has no zoning regulations. Housing there is cheap (relative to Hawaii) and abundant.
        So my short answer is that I would much prefer that people on Kauai enjoy their FULL property rights as would exist in a free-market economy with little if any land use regulation.
        Thanks for the reply, James
        RG DeSoto

        1. james October 20, 2020 8:21 am Reply

          So to follow your logic, anyone who owns property on Kauai should be able to build anything they want without any regulations or government restrictions whatsoever? So if the Robinsons or A and B decided they wanted to build multiple planned communities with 50,000 new homes and condos, that’s OK with you? If large corporations decided to build more 30 story resort hotels and condo projects on the beaches of the Island, that’s OK with you? Without regulation and zoning, greed takes over and we end up like Honolulu in a heartbeat. Paradise spoiled by greed happens all over the world and can happen here if we let our guard down. We have to try and keep Kauai rural and small or we lose what makes Kauai special.

          1. RG DeSoto October 21, 2020 5:11 pm

            Yes full property rights, liberty and freedom is a desirable condition. Ascribing greed to people seeking to use their property as they see fit is a really tired and played rant. No developer or property owner on Kauai would be foolish enough to waste their resources on such massive projects as you mention. You seem to forget there are two sides to every market situation. There is supply and there is demand. A 50,000 unit housing project would drive prices in a downward spiral and result in the developers losing a huge amount of money if not going bankrupt. The depressed prices would discourage any further development and simultaneously partially fill the demand for cheap housing. It is simply not rational for you to suppose that this is not true. Free markets are cruel masters and will not tolerate malinvestment. You need to quit invoking the all or nothing rationale evident in your reply above.
            However, your desire for an over regulated land use and housing market is most likely what will continue. So you should rest easy and be assured that there will NEVER be an adequate supply of housing; neither “affordable” or otherwise. You just can’t have it both ways…over regulated and cheap. You seem to me to be someone that has his and just prefers to limit the opportunity for others to enjoy what you have.
            RG DeSoto

  6. White privilege October 19, 2020 8:37 am Reply

    This council sickens me.. we should remove all of them….there will never be any more truly affordable housing on this Island except for habitat..all because of greed.
    Plain and simple…they act like they want affordable housing…I call bull s#$t , it’s all smoke and mirrors to Gentrify kauai.

    1. Reality Bites October 20, 2020 2:33 am Reply

      You should take a class at KCC in Economics.

      Something called “Supply and Demand”. There is not a more powerful force in the Universe.

      If the Cost of living is high, then you don’t subsidize it with higher taxes in order for people to live there. It will never work. People that can’t afford to live here, and are subsidized via taxpayer money, should be pushed off the island to a cheaper place on Planet Earth. Reality stings sometimes.

  7. WestKauai October 20, 2020 4:55 pm Reply

    Most of the affordable housing rhetoric seems to focus on home ownership and single family dwellings. The cost of land, materials, and labor on Kauai preclude pricing of homes within the affordable metrics that are generally used. I believe that the focus should be on construction of multi-unit dwellings, either rental apartments or condos, as the per-unit cost is much lower. These could be used as entry-level accommodations that would allow residents to save and plan for eventual ownership. It works elsewhere, why not here on Kauai?

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