Families, Not Investors, Deserve a Home in Maui County | News, Sports, Jobs

Housing. Cars. Meal. Gas. We spend more on everything these days. Maui County’s economy is a microcosm of the world economy. Global labor shortages, ongoing supply chain problems, and inflation have hit our household budgets, and it’s hurting.

Our housing shortage is also reflected in the outside world. We just don’t have enough homes to meet the needs of Maui County today. Over the next five years we will need 10,000 new housing units to meet demand. For context, our county approved fewer than 5,000 new homes between 2009 and 2019.

Since I took office in 2019, 1,394 new housing units have been built in Maui County — 364 were affordable rentals and 574 were affordable purchases. Around 2,500 approved apartments for rent or purchase are currently being planned. To expedite construction, I commit to this three-pronged strategy:

• Accelerate desirable housing projects through more direct action to reduce regulatory barriers and shorten the review process. My administration has implemented a new process that convenes all departments simultaneously to coordinate efforts to expedite permit approvals.

• Recommit Maui County to build the necessary infrastructure to reduce the cost of building homes and bring more units to market faster.

• Crack down on illegal short-term renters and work with Maui County Council to make owner-occupied property taxes fairer.

how did we get here Over time, wealth managers and real estate agents have shifted from selling houses as places to live “Investment Vehicle”. This shift has led to an oversupply of luxury homes and a deficit of single-family homes throughout Hawaii and beyond. Wealthy offshore investors, who often buy homes with cash, can afford to leave them vacant for most of the year.

I’m often asked why we don’t just discourage foreigners from buying real estate in Maui County. The US Constitution’s Commerce Clause prohibits discrimination against citizens of other states, and only Congress has the authority to restrict foreign investment. State and county are powerless to do anything about it.

Some investors, including corporations, are buying neighborhood homes for short-term rentals. This isn’t unique to Maui. Other coveted locations like New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney, Barcelona and Amsterdam have the same problem. They have found that too much short-term rentals are driving up real estate prices and rental rates in the area, while reducing the housing supply available.

Others say that short-term rentals harm the community itself. The Journal of Tourism & Travel published results of a 2017 qualitative survey of Oahu residents who said they were less concerned about the impact of short-term rents on home affordability and more concerned about the impact on their sense of community. If the house across the street has a revolving door for strangers, it affects everyone in the neighborhood.

But long before this trend, Hawaii was an expensive place to live. Everything, especially housing, is more expensive here. Our geographical isolation means that all building materials – every single nail – have to be shipped. Limited land and water, onerous regulations, community opposition to development, and well-intentioned but misguided housing policies often impede or halt affordable housing developments.

Earlier this week, Oahu-based developer Lokahi Global Corporation shared plans to build a 125-unit multifamily complex in the city of Wailuku to replace a six-story hotel proposed before the pandemic. 60 percent of the units would be priced in the affordable range, 40 percent at market prices. Lokahi Global has built other successful housing projects in Honolulu using this formula.

I fully support their project. Future residents of a rehabilitated city of Wailuku can step back in time to a time when “live, work, play” was the norm for Maui’s small towns. County and state employees and those who work in the courts could easily walk to work every day. With the nearby Maui bus system, a working couple or small family could downsize to one car instead of two and save more of their hard-earned income while helping the environment.

Change will not happen overnight, but progress will be made. Together we can solve Maui County’s housing crisis.

* “Our District” a column by Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino discusses county government affairs and activities. The column changes as well “3 Minutes of Council” every other weekend.

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