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Kauai mayor considers lifting ban on north shore vacation rentals


    Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. talks at the Emergency Operations Center in Lihue, Kauai, April 16.

Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. is considering lifting a ban on legal transient vacation units on Kauai’s flood-­ravaged north shore if the owners agree to house some of the 15 families displaced when their homes were destroyed by severe flooding and landslides in mid-April.

Carvalho said Friday the county would use $100,000 in emergency relief funds to pay for the temporary housing and would ask for discounted rates.

“I think it would be a win-win,” he said. “We can get some of our north shore residents out of their tents and cars and we can help the legal transient vacation unit owners get back to business.”

Carvalho issued an executive order in May prohibiting vacation rentals from operating in Lumahai, Wainiha and Haena so the county could concentrate on helping residents affected by the disaster. The order was expected to stand until at least October, the estimated completion date for a 2-mile stretch of Kuhio Highway, the main north shore thoroughfare.

Kauai Visitors Bureau Executive Director Sue Kanoho said giving transient vacation unit owners a chance to recoup some of the revenue lost over the last three months would be “huge for them.”

Kanoho noted that aside from north shore vacation rentals, Kauai’s tourism industry reported strong growth approaching the midpoint in the year.

Visitor arrivals through the first five months rose just over 12 percent to 562,891, while spending increased just over 8 percent to nearly $847 million, she said. May arrivals totaled 113,014, a gain of nearly 8 percent over May 2017, and spending was up more than 13 percent to $163 million.

“We did much better than I expected in May, but the north shore is not enjoying the same success as the rest of the island since there’s been an emergency ban on transient vacation units. With the closure stretching into the peak summer season, many of these owners have lost significant revenue,” Kanoho said.

Carvalho said the arrangement under consideration might also help owners who don’t qualify for individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency because their property is a second home.

While the state’s original application for flooding assistance for Honolulu and Kauai was denied, officials from the state, the counties and FEMA worked together on a new one that was approved June 27.

“Individual assistance from FEMA is the result of the successful appeal formulated by the communities, county and state and signed by Gov. David Ige,” said Cindy McMillan, Ige’s communications director.

Up to $410,231 is earmarked for Kauai individuals and households, while Honolulu’s allocation is $579,446, McMillan said.

Carvalho estimated each qualifying Kauai household would get about $34,000 for housing assistance and other needs related to their primary homes.

The county doesn’t have an official count of how many transient vacation rentals are in the Lumahai, Wainiha and Haena region or how many are second homes or investment properties.

Airbnb, just one Kauai vacation rental hosting site, has said reservations were blocked for months at all 43 of its listings in the Wainiha-Haena area and that nearly 14 percent of its Kauai bookings were canceled between April 14 and June 18.

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