Protect Front Street housing

The Maui News joins business and labor groups in calling upon the state Legislature to keep Front Street Apartments as a resource for low-income housing.

The reasons are pretty straight forward, and we think they are best expressed by this bit of information furnished by Front Street Apartments:

“It is a fairly rare occasion when labor and business can agree on state legislative matters, but they have as far as stopping the eviction of the low-income Front Street Apartment tenants in Lahaina.

“The Maui Chamber of Commerce, LahainaTown Action Committee, the ILWU and AFL-CIO Unite Here! are among the many groups that have rallied behind the more than 250 tenants and behind Lahaina town for that matter to fight against homelessness, especially among the working poor.

“About 80 percent of the tenants work, many at more than one job, and still have difficulty making ends meet. To toss them out would be like kicking dirt in the face of someone struggling to stand up. They are part of the lifeblood of West Maui — child care sitters, maids, waitresses, condominium cleaners, busboys, dishwashers, executive assistants, substitute teachers, part-time entertainers, part-time construction workers and landscapers, taxi drivers and store clerks.

“The remainder are retirees and disabled, including a Molokai-born woman on dialysis, a Gulf War veteran fighting cancer, a Hawaiian-Chinese woman suffering from traumatic brain injury, a Native Hawaiian recovering from a broken back, and single parents escaping domestic abuse.

“A lawsuit representing some tenants is pending against the building owner for alleged breach of contract in it exercising a 15-year option to raise rents to market levels, despite initially representing an intent to keep Front Street Apartments low-income for 50 years and taking more than $20 million in government tax benefits. But gambling on the lawsuit’s outcome is not the way to go, when the future of so many is at stake.

“At stake is also the future of historic Lahaina town, a National Historic Landmark, the former capital of Hawaii and the resting place of many Hawaiian royalty. Lahaina plays a vital role in our visitor economy, an area second to none other than Waikiki as a revenue generator. The homeless shelter in Lahaina is at or near capacity, and there are already workers sleeping in their cars overnight in the town.

There’s a bunch of housing legislation in the 2019 Legislature. We think first on its list of priorities should be protecting what it already has at Front Street Apartments.”

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.