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Candidates speak on housing at the Kaua‘i Realtors forum

LIHU‘E — With soaring rents making life on the island less and less affordable, housing is the number one issue for many voters this election season.

The Kaua‘i Board of Realtors Government Affairs Committee interviewed candidates for county and state government positions on housing, focusing largely on the hot-button proposal to allocate a minimum 2 percent of property tax revenues each year to fund affordable housing.

While versions of the proposal have generated debate at the Kaua‘i County Council this year, there was near-consensus support for the proposal in the interviews.

Incumbent County Council Members Luke Evslin, Felicia Cowden, KipuKai Kuali‘i, Bernard Carvalho and Billy DeCosta, along with candidates Nelson Mukai, Rachel Secretario, Ross Kagawa, Fern Holland and Mel Rapozo, all voiced support for some version of an affordable housing allocation.

Candidate Roy Saito was less warm on the idea, saying he would support it only if “it’s not adding on to the burden of the people of Kaua‘i.”

The housing allocation became a flashpoint this year after Evslin proposed a measure to generate $4.5 million for affordable housing through a tax on vacation rental properties this May.

The measure was voted down by Council Members Carvalho, DeCosta, Cowden and Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro — largely because the money would not necessarily be earmarked toward affordable housing in future years.

In part to ensure funding from a vacation rental tax could be earmarked toward housing in the future, Council Vice Chair Mason Chock and Evslin proposed a bill that would put a charter amendment on next month’s ballot allocating 2 percent of real property taxes to affordable housing each year. This measure was also voted down by the council.

The latest development was the recent introduction of another proposal to allocate 2 percent of real property taxes through the county code, and a less-binding resolution that would serve the same purpose, both of which appear to have strong support among the council members.

Mayor Derek Kawakami said at the Board of Realtors forum that while he supported funding affordable housing, he didn’t like the charter amendment as a method to make that happen.

“I think it’s the county council’s job to make those appropriations,” said Kawakami. “I’m not convinced it would do anything to add more affordable housing.”

Based on revenues this year, the 2 percent allocation would come out to $3.75 million.

What can the state do?

State House Housing Committee Chair Nadine Nakamura (D-15) said in her Board of Realtors interview that she saw the last legislative session as “a template for what we have to do.”

“We spent about a billion dollars on housing,” said Nakamura, citing the allocation of $300 million to a Rental Housing Revolving Fund, half of which is earmarked to develop moderate-income housing.

In addition, they gave $600 million to the chronically underfunded state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, which currently has a waitlist of about 28,700 — more than 4,000 on Kaua‘i.

A DHHL draft plan submitted in May would spend $505 million of that funding on developing lots and homes, while the remaining $95 million would go toward acquiring lands and home purchase aid.

Republican candidates for office proposed hands-off alternatives to the Democratic plans.

“I believe the best thing the government can do is back away from trying to control this issue,” said Greg Bentley, who is running for Nakamura’s seat. “They’re forcing 90 percent of this island to live on about 10 percent of the landmass. I feel that the best thing we can do is to modify zoning laws for development to make more land available.”

Steve Yoder — a Republican running for the District 16 seat held by state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka — also said “less government” was the solution to the housing problem. Yoder pointed to the DHHL funding as an example of the government “throwing money” at a problem.

Instead, he suggested creating problem-solving committees made up of volunteer businesspeople.

In the governor’s race, both Democrat Josh Green and Republican Duke Aiona have made lowering housing costs key aspects of their campaigns.

Green’s plan, according to his website, includes eliminating red tape, cracking down of vacation rentals, incentivizing long-term affordable rentals and constructing new affordable housing.

Aiona’s plan would involve freezing the sales price of affordable units, creating a path for those in affordable rentals to purchase their units, and revamping land leases for DHHL beneficiaries.


Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or
Source: The Garden Island

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