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TGI candidate profile: Luke Evslin

Luke Evslin

• Age: 37

• Residence: Lihu‘e

• Occupation: Business owner, teacher, councilmember

• Prior experience: Served two terms on the Kaua‘i County Council (2018-present), served on the county open space commission, the County General Plan Update Community Advisory Committee, the board of Malama Hule‘ia, the board of Kaiola Canoe Club, the board of the Hawai‘i Va‘a Association, and have volunteered as a paddling coach for the last 15 years

Q: The median price of a single-family home on Kaua‘i is over $1 million, and the county’s 2018 General Plan reported 44% of all households are cost-burdened. How will you address the affordable-housing crisis on Kaua‘i?

The housing crisis is the biggest issue that we face. I’ve spent most of my time over the last four years trying to address it from every angle, including eliminating fees, providing homeowners with free septic systems, reducing zoning barriers to development within our existing towns, and trying (and failing) to increase taxes on vacation rentals while providing the revenue towards affordable housing. All of my work centers around five core principles:

1) We need to build more homes in and around our existing towns. Every study on affordability includes increasing supply as a prerequisite for affordability. This is the first decade since statehood where home construction on Kaua‘i has fallen far below our population growth — and it’s this lack of homes that is the driver of our exploding costs;

2) We need to put more money towards building affordable housing;

3) We need to continually strive to make it easier for families to add on additional units (ARUs or ADUs) to their existing homes;

4) We need to build the infrastructure for more townhouses and condos in Lihu‘e. These are the only non-subsidized units that can be built within a truly affordable range;

5) We need to continue raising property taxes on vacant second homes and vacation rentals, which make up one in five homes on Kaua‘i. An effective tax rate for these homes can incentivize them to convert to resident housing and help fund the construction of affordable housing.

Q: The County Council sets real-property-tax rates as part of the county budget process. What changes, if any, would you make to the way that property is taxed on-island?

I believe that vacation rentals and vacant homes should pay more, with the revenue going mostly towards affordable housing. Here is the tax policy I have worked on:

I co-introduced and passed legislation to create two new property exemptions for homes above commercial spaces. These properties are currently assessed at the high, commercial-property-tax rate, which is a barrier to their development.

I co-introduced and passed legislation to provide access to existing beneficial property-tax rates and exemptions to families with no living owners on the title.

I co-introduced and failed to pass legislation that closes a loophole where owners of vacation rentals who live part time on the property or full time in another house on the property get taxed at the second-lowest tax rate, which is otherwise only reserved for small home businesses or long-term rentals on an owner-occupant’s property.

The legislation would have taxed them at the appropriate vacation-rental rate.

I’ve twice introduced and failed to pass a budget amendment to raise the vacation-rental property tax rate to equal the resort rate, with nearly all of the revenue going towards affordable housing.

I’ve co-introduced a bill that could give council the authority to charge high-value vacant homes and vacation rentals at higher rates. It is currently in process.

I’ve co-introduced a bill to change the agricultural-dedication program so that it encourages real farming, discourages land banking and fraud, and is less punitive than the current system.

Q: The coronavirus pandemic decimated the tourism industry Kaua‘i and the state are so reliant upon. Should Kaua‘i County make economic diversity a priority, and if so, how?

We cannot achieve economic diversification if the next generation can’t afford to live here. You can’t take a risk on starting a business if you can’t afford rent. And a primary barrier for many businesses right now is attracting and retaining employees — which stems at least partially from the high cost of housing. While I think that the state and federal governments can play an important role in helping to directly subsidize agriculture and domestic manufacturing — for the county I see our primary role in stimulating the economy as reducing the cost of housing, investing in vibrant and walkable town cores, reducing zoning barriers to small home-based businesses and ensuring that real farmers are paying very-minimal property taxes.

Q: Kaua‘i continues to look for a new landfill site, years after its search began. The clock is ticking: The Kekaha landfill is currently projected to reach capacity in Jan. 2027. What is your preferred solution?

With the proposed Ma‘alo landfill site rejected by the state Department of Transportation because of concerns around the impact of birds on our airport, the county is beginning the process of siting a new landfill. However, the process to site and build a new one is expected to take just as long — or slightly longer — than the lifespan of our existing landfill.

This is one of the most major issues that we face on Kaua‘i. If we run out of room at the Kekaha landfill without a new landfill ready to go, we may be forced to temporarily ship our waste off island at incredible cost to taxpayers.

The answer is diversion, diversion, diversion. Construction of a materials recovery facility, curbside recycling, diverting commercial food waste to composting facilities and a recycling facility for construction and demolition debris — all of these need to simultaneously be pursued to extend the life of our landfill long enough to enable the siting and construction of a new facility. And, by pursuing these, we can also save taxpayers money and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

Q: What is driving you to seek election or re-election, and why should voters give you their vote?

On Kauaʻi, we face a number of deep and interwoven problems: home prices are too high, good jobs are too hard to find, carbon emissions are changing our climate and threatening our coast, and traffic is overwhelming both our infrastructure and our patience. Some of these problems have festered so long it may feel as if we’re powerless to change them.

Too often, we see these problems framed as outside the control of local government. The end result is that nothing changes, the status quo triumphs, and we’re all left with the feeling that comprehensive solutions simply do not exist. I have no illusions about the difficulty of addressing these challenges, and I don’t claim there are easy solutions. But I do believe that local government can do more.

I’m running for office because I believe there are solutions. Our land and how we use it is at the heart of all these issues. And while the County Council may be limited in some aspects of island governance, I am confident that we have the tools as a county to reduce the cost of housing while transitioning to a zero-carbon economy — and to do it all while improving our quality of life and strengthening our communities.

Serving Kaua‘i these last four years has been the greatest honor of my life, and through the work we have accomplished I hope that I’ve earned your trust and support to continue the job.
Source: The Garden Island

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