LIHU‘E — Following the recent announcement that Kaua‘i state Rep. Luke Evslin was appointed to chair the House Committee on Housing, Evslin spoke of his efforts to address the state’s housing shortage.
Those efforts include plans to develop more multifamily housing units, loosen zoning code laws, implement higher property taxes on vacant homes and reduce the number of vacation rentals.
“I think the housing crisis is by far the biggest crisis we face, and it’s the driver of so many other issues that we’re seeing,” said Evslin in a recent interview with The Garden Island.
Speaker Scott Saiki announced Evslin had been selected to chair the committee on Nov. 27. The role was previously filled by Rep. Troy Hashimoto, but had been vacant since Hashimoto’s appointment to the Hawai‘i State Senate on Nov. 9, 2023.
Evslin was first elected to the Kaua‘i County Council in 2018, eventually leaving that role in February 2023 after being appointed state representative for House District 16, representing Lihu‘e, Hanamaulu, Kapaia, Puhi and part of Oma‘o.
“All of my focus since I first got elected to the council and through now has been on housing,” said Evslin, who is a Democrat.
“And I’m excited to serve as the housing committee chair because I think that there is a lot that we can do to reform our land use codes to bring down the cost of housing over time.”
Evslin attributed the cause of rising housing costs to the state “vastly underproducing” the amount of necessary housing.
“Our housing stock every year is literally shrinking,” he said. “Even with those that we’re building … we’re losing homes to vacation rentals of those that are getting built.”
Evslin said increasing the number of new housing developments in urban areas would bring down the market price of housing, but building those units is a challenge due to strict zoning code laws.
“I really think it’s important to try and essentially loosen the zoning code within the urban state land use district in ways that encourage both mixed-use development and multi-family development,” he said, emphasizing his aim to preserve agricultural and conservation land.
Evslin noted renting out roughly half of his house to afford the high cost of a home on the island.
“And the reason I can do that is because Kaua‘i zoning code is relatively nice and allows me to do that,” he said.
According to Evslin, Kaua‘i has only recently expanded zoning laws in the last few years, allowing four units to be built per residential lot. Meanwhile, he said, the rest of the state allows for one or two.
During the 2024 legislative session, Evslin plans to introduce a policy package to allow bigger lots to be subdivided into smaller lots, with a minimum size of 1,200 square feet.
“So the intention is to just to make that as easy as possible for people to do statewide. Convert their existing homes into multifamily housing or backyard (units),” he said.
“Instead of building large, single-family homes on 10,000- (or) 12,000-square-foot lots, right? Try and encourage the construction of smaller units on smaller lots … which is going to be affordable by design,” he said, noting recent developments have instead “catered to the luxury market.”
Evslin also referred to a general plan for 9,000 new housing units to be built on Kauai by 2035.
“The emphasis is really ensuring that we are living up to the aims of our state land use law, which is make it easy to develop housing in the urban state land use district, while preserving agricultural land and conservation land,” he said.
He also aims to expand infrastructure to accommodate his planned increase in the number of new developments.
“Zoning is really only the first step … If you don’t have the waste and wastewater capacity, it doesn’t make a difference,” he said.
Aside from increasing development and construction rates, Evslin also discussed wanting to decrease the island’s high number of vacation rentals by increasing property taxes on both vacant homes and vacation rentals.
“I really want to try to prioritize a bill, which would give the counties the authority to essentially change the zoning and phase out vacation rentals in places where necessary,” he said.
Evslin received support from Saiki in a recent statement praising his housing policies and experience.
“Since his service on the Kaua‘i County Council, Representative Evslin has developed a working knowledge of housing issues and the necessary measures at both state and county levels to increase our housing inventory,” Saiki said.
“As a young spouse and parent, he recognizes the challenges faced by local families in securing affordable housing in our state. Representative Evslin is committed to developing housing solutions that benefit Hawai‘i residents and that are compatible with environmental and social needs.”
Evslin also recently served as co-chair of the House Interim Shelter Working Group, along with Hashimoto. The group, created a month after the Aug. 8 Maui wildfires, developed legislative recommendations and policies in response to the wildfire.
Evslin appreciated that Saiki recognized his push for statewide zoning reform, as well as his role as co-chair of the interim wildfire group in choosing to select him for the role.
“When Rep. Hashimoto got appointed to the Senate, there was the opening for the housing chair position,” he said. “I think (Saiki) saw me as able to hit the ground running next legislative session.”
Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached 808-652-0638 or email@example.com.
Source: The Garden Island