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Maui County itself must be affordable housing developer

VIEWPOINT

Is Maui no ka oi? Many travel publications call Maui the best island in the world. After the lifting of travel restrictions, Mainlanders are pouring into our airport, and onto our roads and beaches. They agree that Maui is the best. But how are our local people feeling about their island home? Four years ago, Face Maui (now called Stand Up Maui) made a request to the Maui County Council to create an affordable housing plan to provide a road map to develop homes for our local residents in Maui County. Thankfully, the council agreed and a Comprehensive Affordable Housing Plan was created by Hawaiian Community Assets and will be presented to the council’s Affordable Housing Committee at 1:30 p.m. Monday.

Is the plan created right for us? Let us suggest three ideas to evaluate the plan — safe and decent housing is a human right; affordable housing must be built for the local resident, not the off-island resident; and the County of Maui needs to be the developer of these affordable homes.

If we look at our Hawaiian culture, did we hear of anyone not having a place to rest and be safe? No, the hale was for everyone. So why is it today we say that a person is undeserving of a home if they do not work for it? With so many living in their cars along our beaches, we often hear disdain for them. When will the hale be a place to rest and feel safe again? We must make policy that Maui County will be a place that everyone will find rest in a safe and decent home.

But this safe and decent home keeps getting further and further away from us. We are being outbid for homes by Mainland and foreign buyers, our for-profit developers will not build homes under $500,000 and our county government believes that developers must incur all developmental costs including for the infrastructure. This is the current situation we face, and the purpose of funding the housing plan, which requires homes to be built for “qualified residents,” persons who currently have live d and worked here for a least the past two years.

To make homes for the qualified resident, the county must be the developer. We remember the governments of Elmer Cravalho and Hannibal Tavares, who spearheaded low-cost homes for our local people throughout Maui County. The big question is, does the county have the money to build the homes? Here is where we find the money:

• About $30 million is available and uncommitted to projects in the Affordable Housing Fund for this fiscal year.

• Over a three-year period, the council has made our property tax system more progressive by making wealthier property owners pay more for their non-owner-occupied homes, including short-term rentals.

• Currently, the council is creating a 3 percent transient accommodations tax on all money spent on hotels, timeshares, bed and breakfasts, short-term rentals and other lodging. In 2019, Maui County generated more than $200 million in TAT, according to the state Department of Taxation. The county’s tax base for transient accommodations was a little over $2 billion, and at a 3 percent tax, the revenue to Maui County would be about $60 million. The proposed housing plan calls for spending up to $58 million per year to implement the plan.

The mayor has been given a housing plan with the financial capacity to implement it. The plan also calls for the appointment of an affordable housing coordinator. We believe that this work will require additional staffing in two possible configurations — a new Department of Housing or a new semiautonomous County Housing Authority. This could happen through a charter amendment.

We need action now. The council needs to act to approve the plan and implement the recommended legislative changes to the county’s housing and zoning codes, but without collaboration and action from the mayor on the plan, the $300,000 spent to develop the road map to housing for our local people will become wasted dollars.

* Stan Franco is president of Stand Up Maui, Michael Williams is president of Maui Tomorrow and Lisa Darcy is executive director of Share Your Mana.

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