An Election Year: The intersection of policy and politics – 3% for affordable housing

There is something about an election year that brings out the best in “sitting politicians” running for re-election.  With their political futures uncertain, and their elections soon to be determined by sometimes fickle voters, those in elected office often will initiate actions that in the normal political environment might seem too bold and thus politically risky.

This is the time when true leaders throw the long ball.  While others in the same situation may hunker down and plug away at the same ole same ole, leaders who are committed to making a difference will go long.

Political leaders in this situation know that “it is now or never” and will at this moment in time, introduce something truly meaningful that has the potential for long-term systemic impacts.

For the Councilmember willing and prepared to give it the heave, this is normally a win-win situation.  If the proposal passes, it will be a legacy act with long term tangible benefits to the community.  And the introducer can rightfully take credit for the action in the years and sometimes generations to follow.  If the proposal fails to pass the Council, the introducer can rightfully point to their own initiative and to the lack of support offered by others on the Council (who incidentally are also running for election).

Councilmember Yukimura’s proposal to dedicate 3% of property tax revenue toward affordable housing initiatives is such a bold move, and I for one applaud her for making it.  It will be interesting to see now if her effort is supported by the rest of the Council, two of whom are her opponents in the race to be Kauai’s next Mayor.

It is a brilliant move actually.  The proposal in short involves allowing voters to decide whether or not to dedicate 3% of property tax revenues toward supporting the building of affordable housing.  The proposal does not increase property taxes and the expectation being presented is that this 3% would come out of existing revenue and be achieved via increased government efficiencies, and the restructuring of County priorities.

The lack of affordable housing is an issue of crisis proportions.  People are hurting and not enough is being done by government to fix the problem.  You hear rumblings from some candidates about the need to “streamline” the development process.  Others go on about how “all new housing is good housing”, and advocate for a “just let them build” mentality, thinking somehow that affordable units will trickle down to the many residents desperately in search of decent and affordable housing.

Note to candidates and voters: “Streamline the process” is code for the reduction and elimination of public input and environmental protections.  Making it easier for developers to build without strict affordable mandates, just means they will build more and more expensive homes.  All landowners, developers and builders will build to market, and will not build to sell or rent to affordable levels (ie. below market) unless subsidized and/or mandated to do so by government.

The invisible hand makes them do it.  Without government serving as a counter balance, the invisible hand of free enterprise drives all development to sell to the highest bidder.

More homes built for the market do not create more affordable housing.  The trickle down theory does not work.  While yes, more inventory at all levels does provide some relief at all levels, the answer to our affordable housing crisis is not to loosen standards and requirements in the hopes that all ships will rise.  They won’t.

It is an election year and the entire 7 member Council is being asked to support affordable housing, to increase government efficiency, and to let the voters decide this for themselves.

How could any Councilmember vote against this?

The truth is, you can be sure that one or several members of the Council, possibly even a majority will be in opposition.

Some will attempt to frame the measure as a “tax increase” which it is not.  Yes, it will require 3% of property tax revenue to be used for affordable housing and yes, this revenue has to come out of somewhere but it is not a tax increase.  If a tax increase is needed in the future, the Council can transfer this tax responsibility to the hotel and visitor industry, and the very high end investor owner who does not live here.  After all, this is who should be subsidizing our affordable housing inventories.  For what it’s worth, I have heard of no hotel or investor owners threatening to “pull out of Kauai” because our property taxes are too high.  We have some of the lowest property taxes in the country. The County has a plethora of property tax options and protections for the elderly, those on fixed income, owner occupants and those who rent at affordable rates.

There are lots of strategies to increase the supply of affordable housing and all of them cost money.  The proposed 3% funding would allow the County a valuable tool and resource to leverage all sorts of opportunities in this area.  I am hoping a majority of the Council agrees and will allow the residents to vote on the measure and decide for themselves.

By the way.  The Public Hearing is, Wednesday June 27th at 1:30pm in the Council Chambers.  Testimony may be submitted in person or via email at counciltestimony@kauai.gov

Brilliant.  Truly brilliant.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person. I presently serve now as a volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org In a past life I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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