Housing. Car. Food. Gazi. We are spending more on everything these days. Maui County’s economy is a microcosm of the global economy. Worldwide labor shortages, ongoing supply chain problems and inflation have hit our family budgets and it hurts.
Our lack of housing also reflects on the outside. We simply do not have enough homes to meet today’s requirements in Maui County. Over the next five years, we will need 10,000 new housing units to meet the need. As a context, our county allowed less than 5,000 new homes between 2009-2019.
Since taking office in 2019, 1,394 new housing units have been built in Maui County – 364 were affordable rentals and 574 were purchased at affordable prices. About 2,500 approved workforce homes for rent or purchase are now in preparation. To speed up construction, I am committing 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 established a new process that brings together each department immediately to coordinate actions to expedite permit approvals.
Reengineer Maui County to build the infrastructure needed to reduce housing construction costs to bring more units to market faster.
Hit the illegal short-term rental operators and work with the Maui County Council to make real estate taxes fairer to homeowners.
How did we get here? Over time, wealth managers and realtors have shifted from selling homes as places to live. “investment machines.” This change has brought about a surplus of luxury homes and a deficit of family homes across Hawaii and beyond. Wealthy offshore investors, who often buy homes with cash, can let them stay empty most of the year.
People often ask me why we do not just stop non-residents from buying property in Maui County. The US Constitution trade clause prohibits discrimination against citizens of other states, and only Congress has the power to restrict foreign investment. The state and the county are powerless to change that.
Some investors, including corporations, buy neighborhood homes to operate as short-term leases. This is not unique to Maui. Other desirable places like New York, San Francisco, Vancouver, Sydney, Barcelona and Amsterdam have the same problem. They have found that many short-term rents raise housing prices and area rental rates while reducing the available supply of residential housing.
Others say short-term rents hurt the community itself. The Journal of Tourism & Travel published the results of a 2017 qualitative survey of Oahu residents who said they were less concerned about the impact of short-term rents on affordable housing and more about damaging their sense of community. When the house down the street has a revolving door for strangers, it affects everyone in the neighborhood.
Yet even before this trend, Hawaii has long been an expensive place to live. Everything, especially housing, is more costly here. Our geographical isolation means that all building supplies – every nail – must be sent inside. Limited land and water, heavy regulations, community opposition to development, and well-intentioned but misguided housing policies often hinder or completely halt affordable housing developments.
Earlier this week, Oahu-based home builder Lokahi Global Corporation shared plans to build a 125-unit multi-family complex in Wailuku City to replace a proposed six-storey hotel ahead of the pandemic. Sixty percent of the units would have prices in the affordable range of 40 percent at market prices. Lokahi Global has built other successful residential projects in Honolulu using this formula.
I fully support their plan. Prospective residents of a redeveloped Wailuku town may return at a time when “Live, work, play” was the norm for the small towns of Maui. District and state employees, and those working in the courts, could easily go to work every day. With the nearby Maui Bus system, a professional couple or a small family can be reduced to one instead of two cars and save more of their hard-earned income by helping the environment.
Change will not happen overnight, but progress is being made. Together we can solve the housing shortage in Maui County.
* “Our circuit” a column by Maui county mayor Michael Victorino discusses county issues and county government activities. The column alternates with “3 minutes of the Council” every other weekend.
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