Affordable-housing Bill 2774 is beyond counterintuitive

Thank you, Councilmember Felicia Cowden, for standing strong in opposition to passing out of committee Bill 2774. While the measure contains some improvements to the existing affordable-housing ordinance, it also removes critically-important, affordable-housing requirements in the town core of Lihu‘e, Koloa, and Kalaheo, and in multifamily housing developed outside of a Visitor Destination Area (VDA). Bill 2774 is clearly not ready for passage into law, and should remain in committee for further discussion and refinements.

The logic is beyond counterintuitive. Proponents are arguing that by removing the existing 30% affordability requirement, the result will be an increased supply of affordable housing. To be clear, affordable housing is by definition priced below market, and no developer will voluntarily build, sell or rent any product below the prevailing market price. Contrary to its intent, Bill 2774 ensures that no housing built in these areas in the future will be affordable.

It is positively crazy to think otherwise. Nobody leaves money on the table. Without a government mandate to build below-market affordable units, no affordable units will be built.

So, thank you, Councilmember Cowden, for being willing to speak out on behalf of local residents who struggle daily to pay their rents, and who have mostly given up all hope of ever purchasing a home for their family.

It looks from the outside as if the conversation at the council is being driven through the eyes of urban planners and real-estate developers. Missing from the conversation seems to be the strong voices of informed advocates who know and understand the core issues surrounding our lack of affordable housing. Urban planners want a vibrant town core, a walkable community and maximum utilization of the infrastructure. I get it. Realtors and developers want to make money and limit government regulation. I get this too.

But what about local residents who work in those “town cores?” What about the secretaries, clerks, restaurant workers, maintenance staff, dental assistants and super-market checkout folks? Where are they going to live? If Bill 2774 passes in its present form, they certainly won’t be living in a town core devoid of affordable units.

Gutting the affordable-housing requirements from the town core areas is not the answer. The town core is where we need more affordable housing, not less.

The property owners along Rice Street have already received a huge windfall to their balance sheets from prior council actions which doubled and possibly quadrupled (utilizing the ARU provision) their properties’ potential development density. Increased density translates to increased property values. Now these same property owners are poised to receive a second financial windfall through the passage of Bill 2774 and the removal of the affordable-housing requirements.

The adage, “follow the money,” seems appropriate at the moment. The public deserves to know who is benefiting from the council’s actions. Any councilmember can request a list of property owners who have benefited from the increased density approved in the past and who stand poised to benefit again from Bill 2774. Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i and Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro, the co-sponsors of Bill 2774, would be doing a great community service by making this information public and putting the rumors to rest. To be clear, I do not believe any member of the council is acting inappropriately, but I do believe the public deserves to know whose real-estate values are going up due to the action by the council.

My hope is that the council will rethink the proposal now on the table. Passing Bill 2774 in its present form will no doubt make the urban planners happy. And, yes, the owners of real estate in these areas will be smiling all the way to the bank, while the local residents struggling daily to make ends meet will be shortchanged.

Bill 2774 is on the council agenda for today. Kaua‘i residents are encouraged to share their thoughts on the issue via counciltestimony@kauai.gov.

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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.

11 Comments
  1. randy kansas October 21, 2020 2:25 am Reply

    smart developers are moving to Florida, Texas, Arizona and elsewhere….


    1. kandy rancid October 24, 2020 3:41 pm Reply

      Yay!


  2. Uncleaina October 21, 2020 7:15 am Reply

    So why do you think maintaining this rule is going to help? It’s been on the books for years and where’s all the affordable housing it created?


  3. Constituent October 21, 2020 7:18 am Reply

    Thanks Gary. Anyone call look at who own real estate anywhere. It’s public record. If you think the constituents need to know, you should publish it. If you’re asking the council member to out each other, it’s not going to happen.


  4. RSW October 21, 2020 8:37 am Reply

    Gary says: “The property owners along Rice Street have already received a huge windfall to their balance sheets from prior council actions which doubled and possibly quadrupled (utilizing the ARU provision) their properties’ potential development density. Increased density translates to increased property values.”
    Once again we see Gary’s progressive blinders & love of everything government drive him to make economically irrational & ignorant claims. Just where did this “windfall” come from Gary? Well, the property rights & value you say will accrue to the landowners was always there…it was just confiscated and locked up by the county’s overly restrictive/politicized zoning and land use regulations.
    An accurate characterization would be to say that the property rights and value therein, were RETURNED to the people from which it had been forcibly taken.
    Do yourself a favor, Gary. At least read Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt: https://fee.org/media/14946/economicsinonelesson.pdf And take off your progressive/socialist glasses while you read.
    RSW


  5. White privilege October 21, 2020 10:01 am Reply

    Yup..that’s why I’m voting just for felicia.
    She is the only one who stood up for the middle class. Screw the rest.


  6. Kauaidoug October 21, 2020 1:28 pm Reply

    If they can build a tiny house for 60k for example, on the reality shows, why can’t we build homes using local carpenters, contractors at a similar price? I understand this isn’t an exact example but an affordable home for one or two doesn’t need to be a mcmansion.
    As someone who will most likely never have an opportunity to enter the home buyers club as things are now a home that cost 150k with a small plot could be life-changing. I’m just using 150k as an example but an affordable home should have a yard so I’m figuring land costs which might just be a long term lease of some kind on public lands.
    I don’t pretend to be an expert but I’m old enough to see how open land just shrinks and needs to be protected before it is gone. We need to have vibrant urban areas not only for ourselves but it will make a great place to visit. Urban centers also cut down on island traffic. We need to find a way for young people to stay on island and buy a home. A young married couple could get by on two bedrooms untill the family grows then. Guess what, then they can buy a bigger home using their equity. The state or county doesn’t owe anybody a home but it behooves them to encourage homeownership for a better tax base.


  7. Beer Gate October 21, 2020 2:13 pm Reply

    Does anyone remember Beer Gate?

    How a few council members colluded to secure the passing of subdivision of AG land for residential use?

    The used beer to manipulate the outcome to pass that bill.

    Looks like Beer gate all over again with different players but vying for the same outcome.


  8. Scott Goold October 22, 2020 1:47 pm Reply

    My good friend, Gary, offers a compassionate opinion, but his logic is “beyond counterintuitive.” As residents of Hawai’i, we must stop asking others to pay for our privilege. Most of us recognize the need for affordable housing, yet why should “that guy” or “this woman” be asked to put up the money?

    If WE want affordable housing, WE must pay. The most equitable solution is to raise island GET. O’ahu has a higher GET as they fund the Rail Project. Not all are happy. Those on the east side (Kailua, Hawai’i Kai) will not likely use the rail. But a majority of O’ahuans support the project and they are paying.

    If WE want affordable housing, raise GET and supplement development. It’s the equitable, honorable, wise and compassionate solution.


    1. WestKauai October 22, 2020 2:40 pm Reply

      Scott,

      Kauai already raised the GET equivalent to Oahu, at 4.5%. The additional .5% is earmarked for road maintenance and improvement…


  9. WestKauai October 22, 2020 2:49 pm Reply

    Most discussion of affordable housing seems to center on home ownership, particularly single family homes. The focus should be on multi-family dwellings, i.e. apartments or condos that cost far less per unit to build as they share land, walls, roofs, etc., among the units. These can then be rented affordably to those starting out, allowing them to save for eventual ownership. This has been the model in many communities…


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