‘Guest house’ bill another way to add housing on Kauai

The following testimony was submitted by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii for consideration by the Kauai Planning Commission on June 4, 2024.

June 4, 2024, 9 a.m.
Kauai Planning Commission
Lihue Civic Center, Mo’ikeha Building

To: Kauai Planning Commission
      Donna Apisa, Chair
      Gerald Ako, Vice Chair

 From: Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
            Jonathan Helton, Policy Researcher


Aloha Chair Apisa, Vice-Chair Ako and other members of the Commission,

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 existing 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, regardless of whether they are build in visitor destination areas[1] — a requirement that this bill would not change.

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 more 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 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,”[5] 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 the cities of Minneapolis, Houston, Milwaukee and Columbus, Ohio; and the entire states of California and Montana. Auckland, New Zealand, is a good international example.[6]

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.[7]

Thank you for the opportunity to testify.

Jonathan Helton
Policy Researcher
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] Jonathan Helton, “How to facilitate more homebuilding in Hawaii,” Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, December 2023.
[6]  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.
[7] 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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