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HOOSER: Kauai County Council: An argument over affordable housing

I have a confession. For the first time in over four years, I watched an entire County Council meeting.

I’d be lying if I said that it was anything less than painful. Not boring. It was interesting and even fascinating at times, but tedious, painful to watch, and even more painful to listen to.

God bless them for being willing to serve.

The main issue on the table was Resolution No. 2022-22, proposing a charter amendment requiring a minimum of 2% of real-property-tax revenues be dedicated every year for affordable housing. If the resolution is passed by the council, a question will be placed on the ballot stating, “Shall two percent (2%) of real property tax revenues be earmarked for the purpose of affordable housing?”

Kauai voters would then decide yes or no.

Maui voters have approved a similar proposal for 3%, and Honolulu voters will be given the choice in November to increase their existing 0.5% to 1%.

Kudos to Vice Chair Mason Chock and Councilmember Luke Evslin for introducing it and persevering in their effort to make affordable housing a top priority for Kaua‘i County.

Fortunately, the measure passed on Wednesday, and is now scheduled for a July 20 public hearing.

While the vote was unanimous in support, the reality is that Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and Councilmember Bill DeCosta are adamantly and ardently opposed.

They made clear they don’t like it, but voted yes to allow it to be scheduled for a public hearing.

Fortunately, Councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i was in strong support, and repeatedly emphasized the voters of Kaua‘i deserved the right to decide for themselves whether affordable housing should receive dedicated funding or not.

The depth of support for more-affordable housing “today” could be felt in the voice and in the heart of Councilmember and former Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who cast a strong yes vote.

Councilmember Felicia Cowden, after extended and detailed discussion, cast her vote also in support of the resolution.

Chair Kaneshiro said he believes affordable housing is important, but that lots of county services were important. His preference is to budget “year to year,” and he opposes the county making a long-term, irrevocable commitment to building more affordable housing.

While his argument may appeal to the budget hawks of the world, what he is saying also is that the voters of Kaua‘i County should not be given the opportunity to weigh in on an issue that is fundamental to our collective quality of life.

Councilmember DeCosta also said he believed affordable housing was important. His primary concern seemed to revolve around the risk that affordable housing would fall into the hands of new residents from the mainland. He seemed obsessed with the idea that people from the mainland were squeezing out locals and that the money proposed to be set aside for affordable housing would unduly benefit new residents from California or Idaho (two states he specifically called out).

He continually stated that all you needed was a driver’s license to claim residency and thus qualify for affordable-housing benefits.

DeCosta’s assertions were repeatedly refuted by other councilmembers and by the head of the County Housing Agency. It was stated over and over again that proving residency was only one factor out of numerous others that a prospective buyer or renter must comply with in order to qualify for an affordable “for-purchase” or “for-rent” unit.

The truth is that new residents represent an infinitesimal number of the folks who benefit from publicly subsidized affordable housing.

Why do I say observing the council in action was a “painful” experience? Though the outcome was a positive one, the conversation and debate was tedious, and at times unpleasant to observe.

The meeting briefly fell into personal-insult territory when Councilmember DeCosta accused Councilmember Felicia Cowden of “playing the victim” (his words). She earlier had made a comment about being an “outlier” after three amendments she had proposed were voted down 6 to 1. To her credit, she did not rise to the bait and respond in kind. The moment, though tense for a few seconds, thus passed without escalation.

But please don’t take my word for it. Watch the meeting yourself. Start around the 2.5-hour mark and fast forward through breaks and lunch (and some of the more tedious conversation) at

Most importantly, if increasing the supply of truly-affordable housing on Kaua‘i is important to you, submit email testimony ASAP to Share this request with friends and show up at the public hearing scheduled for July 20 at 8:30 a.m.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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