Kauai’s mayor laments
lack of affordable housing

Baptiste forms a panel to consider
ways the isle's housing squeeze
might be countered

LIHUE » Desperate for low- and middle-income housing, Kauai County has created an advisory committee and is developing a plan to address the problem, but Mayor Bryan Baptiste said yesterday there is no quick fix to the island's severe shortage of affordable homes.

County housing officials say the demand for new housing is somewhere between 800 and 1,000 new homes a year. But even with nine housing projects in the pipeline -- some awaiting permits and some not much more than concepts -- only about a third of that need is being met.

The state's housing market boom began in Kauai in late 1998, well ahead of the other islands. The supply of available homes vanished, the demand continued to grow and prices soared.

"Those things caught us by surprise," Baptiste said yesterday morning at his weekly meeting with reporters. "As long as I can remember, we have never had such a steep increase in prices."

"We've had a lot of construction, but all on the high end," he added. "You have a definite gap between what most people can afford and what is available."

Baptiste attributed much of the demand to mainland residents who have found Kauai -- and the Big Island -- a trendy place to build a second home or retirement home.

"It's very similar to what happened on Maui 10 to 15 years ago," he noted.

Developers are discouraged from trying to build modest homes by the high cost of materials and labor on Kauai and the low-profit margins when compared with high-end homes.

Some solutions that are readily available on the mainland do not exist in Hawaii.

Manufactured or modular homes would appear to be an easy way to provide more housing. But Kauai County Housing Director Ken Rainforth said shipping costs of modular homes from the mainland negate all the cost savings, and local manufacturing efforts have not been successful.

"Two years ago, two manufactured-homes companies opened on Oahu," Rainforth said. "Both failed."


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