Policy, Politics, Affordable Housing, and Elections – Kaua`i style

Just a few days out from the close of our primary election and there’s no better time to examine the confluence of policy and politics – a text book example really, Kaua`i style.

The main policy discussion on the table without a doubt centers on the Kaua`i County Council’s failure to advance a proposed charter amendment, that if passed would have created a dedicated funding stream for the support and development of new affordable housing.

The politics of this decision will be obvious when voting results are announced this coming Saturday August 13th.

Council Chair Kaneshiro and Councilmembers’ Carvalho and DeCosta voted against expanding the County’s ability to develop new affordable housing. Adding further fuel to the political fire, their votes denied Kaua`i voters the opportunity to make the choice for ourselves.

All three stated repeatedly that they supported increasing affordable housing, but then voted No against the measure. They also voted against a previous measure that attempted to increase funding for affordable housing.

Voters are encouraged to watch the meetings of May 13th, June 15th and August 3rd to hear the Councilmembers in their own words justifying both the yes votes and the no votes.

At the May 13th meeting during the County budget deliberations Vice Chair Mason Chock and Councilmember Luke Evslin introduced a bill proposing an increase in the property tax on transient vacation rentals (TVR’s) and utilizing that money to expand affordable housing.

This proposal was killed with Chair Kaneshiro leading the charge arguing that “we don’t need the money now” and “there is no guarantee the money will be used in the future for affordable housing.” It was pointed out by several Councilmembers that the only way to ensure the funds would be dedicated for affordable housing was via a charter amendment.

There is a large and growing houseless encampment literally in the shadows of the County building. Virtually every affordable housing project and every single homeless shelter on our island is full. We have people sleeping in the bushes, under bridges and in their cars.

Yet the attempt to raise additional funds from TVR’s, the very segment of the housing market that severely exacerbates the problem – is shot down. Go figure.

Not to be deterred, Vice Chair Mason Chock and Councilmember Luke Evslin then introduced a Resolution on June 15th proposing a charter amendment that would guarantee annual funding for affordable housing of a similar amount proposed on May 13th. Thus addressing one of the major objections voiced by opponents.

Well, you guessed it, on August 3rd Councilmembers Kaneshiro, Carvalho and DeCosta, opposed and killed this measure as well. They argued that increasing funding for affordable housing should be done during the budget deliberations and not via the Charter, and we don’t really need the money now anyway.

The rationale for the No votes seemed to go in circles.

“I don’t think we should dedicate annual funding for affordable housing, but I definitely support affordable housing.”

“I support affordable housing but I don’t think you should let voters decide whether or not it should be a County budget priority.”

”We have lots of ways that we can support affordable housing but I don’t think we need to utilize all of them. But this doesn’t mean I don’t support affordable housing.”

One testifier obviously frustrated by the discussion, called out the opposing Councilmembers by stating the obvious. They were opposing the proposed charter amendment because it would make the funding and support for affordable housing permanent, after criticizing and opposing the previous TVR tax increase for not providing a long term guarantee of funding for affordable housing.

Sheesh. It’s embarrassing and appalling. They are presented with not one but two separate proposals that have the potential to make meaningful improvements to our communities critical affordable housing shortage – and they shoot both down.

In addition to the support provided by introducers Vice Chair Mason Chock and Councilmember Luke Evslin, both Councilmembers Cowden and Kualii provided passionate and fact based arguments validating both the need and the mechanism being proposed.

It’s important to point out that Maui County did both – they increased property taxes on hotels and TVR’s AND they passed a charter amendment dedicating 3% of property tax revenues toward affordable housing. Oahu County also has a similar provision in their charter.

But alas the entire effort was for naught and went down in flames – short of one vote as 5 is the minimum threshold for charter amendment proposals.

The convergence of policy and politics will be on full display 3 days from now.

The 5 incumbents, Evslin, Cowden and Kualii who voted yes for increased dedicated funding for affordable housing, and Carvalho and DeCosta who voted no and killed the proposal, will be judged on Saturday by Kauai voters – it will be interesting indeed to see how the votes fall (pun intended).

Council Chair Kaneshiro and Vice Chair Chock are not on the ballot, as they are “termed out” and unable to run, and thus will miss out on the election night festivities.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person and does not represent the official position of any organization I may be affiliated with. I presently serve as volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org I am the former Vice-Chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. In another 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. Please visit my website AND sign up for my newsletter (unlike any email newsletter you have ever gotten, of that I am sure) - http://www.garyhooser.com/#four “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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