Tiny housing bill goes forward

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A House bill intended to help farms address more affordable housing needs to clear one more reading in order to cross over to the Senate.

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A House bill intended to help farms address more affordable housing needs to clear one more reading in order to cross over to the Senate.

Rep. Cindy Evans’ (D-North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala) introduced legislation allowing farms to have so-called “tiny homes” on agricultural-zoned land in order to house employees. A tiny home is one that is less than five hundred square feet, according to the language of HB 2.

The bill cleared its second committee, the Committee on Judiciary, on Thursday.

It was heard by the Committee on Agriculture, chaired by Hawaii Island Rep. Richard Creagan (D-Naalehu, Ocean View, Capt. Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona) earlier this month.

“Rep. Creagan lives on a farm down at the end of the island, and he understands what I’m talking about,” Evans said. “We’re lacking the ability for people to live on the land that they farm.”

Evans has introduced bills for several years relating to farm housing.

“I haven’t gotten very far,” she said.

The tiny houses proposal could gain momentum, she said, because it has already done so in many communities on the mainland.

If enacted, the bill would be limited to agricultural land in Hawaii County.

Hawaii Revised Statutes state that “farm dwellings, employee housing, farm buildings, or activities or uses related to farming and animal husbandry” are permitted use of agriculture land.

However, land that is under a short-term agriculture lease cannot have any permanent structures on it. Tiny homes can be mobile, Evans said; in this case, they are registered with the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In testimony on behalf of the state Department of Agriculture, DOA chairman Scott Enright wrote that the department was concerned about the tiny homes becoming “de facto residential dwellings” and that the county would be unable to “adequately monitor and enforce the farm worker/family occupancy requirement.”

The state Office of Planning testified that the tiny homes regulation could lead to “exurban sprawl” and a decrease in land values.

“I do know people are a little gun-shy, but they’re just questioning if this is going to open the door to something else,” Evans said. The language Evans included in the bill — that the farm had to be a working farm with a tax ID — is intended to protect against that door opening.

“People think it’s going to be vacation rental housing,” she said.

The House will vote on more than 200 bills a week from Tuesday, including the tiny houses measure.

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“When it crosses over to the Senate, I’m going to be over there lobbying the Senators,” Evans said. “That’s what we have to do next.”

Email Ivy Ashe at iashe@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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