‘Guest house’ proposal, Bill 2919, could provide multiple benefits

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Kauai County Council on March 27, 2024.

March 27, 2024, 8:30 a.m.
Kauai County Council
Historic County Building

To: Kauai County Council
      Mel Rapozo, Chair
      KipuKai Kuali‘i, Vice Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Ted Kefalas, Director of Strategic Campaigns


Aloha Chair Rapozo, Vice-Chair Kuali‘i and other members of the Council,

The Grassroot Institute of Hawaii would like to offer its support for Bill 2919, which would allow one guest house per dwelling unit in most of the county’s residential districts and commercial, agriculture, open and university districts, in an effort to increase the availability of housing for rent.

A guest house is defined in the county code as “a building with a floor area of no more than 800 square feet, may contain a kitchen, and is used for dwelling purposes by guests, tenants, or owner(s).”  The code further specifies that guest houses cannot be used as homestays or short-term rentals.[1]

The bill also would allow guest houses to be built on lots that already have an “additional dwelling unit,” which is defined as “a structure or portion thereof designed and used for single-family residential purposes as permitted under Article 15 of this Chapter, and which can be detached from or attached to an existing residence, to be used for single-family occupancy and containing one kitchen.”[2]

The expansion of guest houses contemplated by this bill would offer homeowners the opportunity to build second dwellings on their properties either for their children, aging parents or extended families, enabling multigenerational families to live on the same property.

This bill could also generate wealth for existing homeowners by allowing them to rent out their guest houses.

This bill is in accord with the 2018 update to Kauai’s General Plan, which recommended that the County “facilitate the development of small-footprint homes or ‘tiny homes’ on small lots”[3] in existing urban areas as a way to alleviate Kauai’s housing crisis.

That update also recommended that the County should seek to “avoid sprawl development patterns and inefficient infrastructure and service delivery by maximizing density in new communities,”[4] which this bill would allow.

As the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii pointed out in its recent report “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” allowing more homes on the same lot is a powerful approach that many states and cities across the county have used to increase housing supply.

Such areas include Minneapolis, Minnesota; Houston, Texas; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and Columbus, Ohio, as well as the entire states of California and Montana. Auckland, New Zealand, is a good international example.[5]

All have “upzoned” their residential areas to allow greater housing density on lands already zoned for housing, and the research indicates these changes can increase supply and incrementally lower prices.[6]

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Ted Kefalas
Director of Strategic Campaigns
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

[1] Kauai County Code, § 8-1.5 Definitions., accessed March 22, 2024.
[2] Ibid.
[3]Kauaʻi General Plan,” 2018 Update, p. 119.
[4] Ibid, p. 121.
[5]  Laurel Wamsley, “The hottest trend in U.S. cities? Changing zoning rules to allow more housing,” NPR, Feb. 17, 2024; and Ryan Greenaway-McGrevy, “Can Zoning Reform Reduce Housing Costs? Evidence from Rents in Auckland,” University of Auckland Business School, Economic Policy Centre Working Paper No. 016, June 2023.
[6] Christina Plerhoples Stacy, Christopher Davis, Yonah Freemark, Lydia Lo, Graham MacDonald, Vivian Zheng and Rolf Pendall, “Land-Use Reforms and Housing Costs,” Urban Institute, March 29, 2023; and Vicki Been, Ingrid Gould Ellen and Katherine M. O’Regan, “Supply Skepticism Revisited,” New York University Law and Economics Research Paper forthcoming, Nov. 10, 2023


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