By Chad Deal
Housing, housing, housing! We hear this cry coming from our residents, politicians, county agencies, well let’s just say everyone. Over and over, the mantra continues from year to year. So, what is actually being done?
In 2008, the Kaua‘i County Council passed Bill No. 2202, which was signed into law as Ordinance No. 860. The law “established a new chapter, Kaua‘i County Coce 1987, as amended, relating to the housing policy for the County of Kaua‘i.”
In an effort to encourage developers to provide more housing, especially at the affordable rates set by HUD and our County Housing Agency, they sought to accomplish this goal by requiring private developers to devote a percentage of each project to strictly affordable homes for our local workforce. Great idea, right? It sounds logical, but our officials failed to see this from the developer’s perspective — financial viability.
In looking at the problem from this angle, we see that levying restrictions on developers has actually been counterproductive to providing much needed housing, especially for our lower income residents. To that end, we now have an extreme shortage in both home ownership and rental properties because these restrictions have caused many private developers to go elsewhere. Yes there has to be a happy middle ground, which allows development of both “affordable” units along with giving allowances for more costly yet financially rewarding “luxury” units.
We as a community need to realize in order to fill the need of our growing resident population, some restrictions on developers need to be lifted. New height limits and zoning density are being discussed for Lihu‘e, and may also need to be considered for other areas around the island rather than the continued sprawl we have seen in the past. One of the main enjoyments of Kaua‘i living is our relaxed rural setting which we all respect and want to keep, but in order to maintain that we must consider going up rather than out. This concept was noted in the recent process of the General Plan Update.
The County of Kaua‘i has accomplished some housing, and for that, the county Housing Agency deserves applause. But as long as developers are encumbered with unrealistic restrictions, we will not see the current housing shortage addressed. We can wish to turn back the clock 10, 20 or 30 years. Where does it end? But we know this will only happen in our dreams.
We need to address the future needs of our community now by asking our elected officials to facilitate housing development rather than restrict it. Maui County cut their development restrictions in half, and saw a significant increase in affordable housing development, showing this approach can work. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell in his State of the City suggested a similar approach to the housing crisis on O‘ahu.
This will be an important election year for Kaua‘i. Five candidates already filed for the mayoral race, and a sixth one expressed intention to run. All seven seat at the County Council will be up for election, and three current councilmembers will not be seeking reelection. So I encourage each of you to vote and ask your friends and family to register if they have not.
In our local elections every vote counts and your vote is your way, your voice in shaping the future of our island community. There are three ways you can participate in the process: vote (cast your ballot), act (get involved), and invest (supporting candidates). Registering is simple and easy, just have your ID ready and visit the Hawai‘i Voter Registration site at: http://elections.hawaii.gov/
Malama Kaua‘i and see you at the polls, Chad.
- Chad Deal is the Director of Government Affairs for the Kaua‘i Board of REALTORS®