I’m getting calls daily from panicked Kaua`i residents being forced out of their long-term rentals. An overheated housing market means an increasing number of landlords are selling out to wealthy investors from the continent.
For many there’s nowhere to go. Nowhere at all.
Except perhaps under that bridge, or in the bushes across from the beach, or behind the golf course.
If you don’t believe me, just drive around with your eyes open.
A quick check of various online platforms shows slim pickings with long term rental prices ranging from $1,100/mo for a studio in Hanamaulu, $2,300/mo for a 1bd in Koloa, $3,200/mo 3bd/2ba in Kekaha, and $5,700/mo 2bd/2ba in Princeville.
The message from affordable public housing: *CURRENTLY, WE ARE ACCEPTING APPLICATIONS FOR OUR WAITLIST. NO IMMEDIATE VACANCIES*
So tell me. Where is a young family supposed to live? Or the elderly retiree living on social security? Or our friends working multiple jobs just to exist?
The State legislature is considering $1 billion to go toward affordable housing initiatives on all islands.
We have good people and good organizations – like Kaua`i Habitat for Humanity and Jim and Harvest Edmonds who founded PAL, a non-profit providing homes and sustainable living solutions for the people of Kaua`i.
Over the past few years, the County has taken significant steps in the right direction. New housing projects have been completed and changes to density requirements have been implemented – but we need more.
County Government, the Mayor, and the Council – this is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to land use, zoning, density, infrastructure, construction permitting, and the implementation of community development plans.
To be ultimately clear, reducing building standards, cutting corners to “fast track” development, and rezoning agricultural land outside of existing urban areas – are not paths we should take.
Rather than reducing standards, the County needs to “staff up” departments charged with plan/permit review.
#1) Special County administrative planning and permitting teams should be assembled that focus first and foremost on facilitating the plan review and permitting for affordable projects, whether a single affordable rental unit, or large-scale development.
#2) The Council’s path of increasing allowable density on lands adjacent to existing infrastructure (road, sewer, water) is a good one. However, increased density is a public gift to landowners and should not be given without a requirement in writing that in return, the landowner/developer will actually build the much-needed affordable housing – in the near future.
3) The County also must aggressively pursue partnerships with those landowners controlling lands within or adjacent to existing urban areas. Lihue is the most obvious example. Lands across from the airport, Kukui Grove, and Walmart are all prime locations to develop affordable housing for local residents.
The County must use its zoning and taxing authority to incentivize appropriate development in these and other similar areas around the island. The County also has significant borrowing capacity and could use bond funding to support the additional infrastructure needed – IF and only IF – the project is truly affordable to a majority of Kaua`i residents. The bonds would be repaid via the increased tax revenue generated from the developed properties.
If the availability of water is an issue, additional storage and/or transmission capacity can be expanded.
The County has an array of carrots and sticks it can use to persuade landowners to do the right thing. If the landowner remains recalcitrant (greedy) the County should then force a sale at fair market value (based on existing agricultural zoning) via eminent domain, and find another suitable (less greedy) development partner.
We are in a housing emergency. People are hurting and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It’s time for the County to get serious and play hardball.