Thank you Kauai 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 Lihue, 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 counter-intuitive. 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 Kualii and Council Chair 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 tomorrow, Wednesday, October 21. Kauai residents are encouraged to share their thoughts on the issue via email@example.com