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Celebrity couple’s request highlights Maui’s housing woes

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  • COURTESY ROYAL CARIBBEAN - Actor and adventure seeker

    Carlos PenaVega, right, Alexa PenaVega and Ocean PenaVega in New York last year.

A celebrity couple’s request to convert their Hawaii home into a short-term rental is landing them in the middle of a housing debate on the island of Maui.

Alexa PenaVega, star of the film “Spy Kids,” and her actor-singer husband Carlos PenaVega are seeking a permit to rent out their Kihei home. The request comes two years after the couple moved from Los Angeles seeking a change of pace, the Maui News reported.

Last year, the Maui County Council passed a law that would require a person to own a property for at least five years before seeking a short-term rental permit. The bill included a six-month grace period that ended in September, and the PenaVegas got their application done in August.

Residents at a recent planning commission meeting complained the neighborhood is already full of vacation rentals that reduce housing options for residents.

“This is nothing personal, and you seem like lovely people, but this makes my blood boil,” said Wailuku resident Noelani Ahia. Local people who have lived in the area for generations can’t afford to stay, she said.

The community has disappeared from Kihei, said Cody Nemet Tuivaiti, who grew up in the area: “Basically nowadays we are strangers in our own town, where before we knew everybody.”

A lack of community is why the PenaVegas need to rent out their home, they said. When they moved into a three-bedroom home on a private gated street near the Kihei shoreline, they intended to stay, they said.

But their neighborhood didn’t quite feel like home — there are three vacation rentals within 500 feet.

“You’d meet somebody and a week (later) they were gone,” Carlos PenaVega said. “For us as a growing family, we really value community out here, so that was tough.”

The couple and their son moved to a 2-acre property in Maui’s Upcountry area, where they have found a neighborhood community.

“But that was never our intention to (do a) vacation rental at all,” said Alexa PenaVega. “We came here to live here.”

Renting out the house long-term would only allow them to break even, Carlos PenaVega said.

While commissioners said they struggle with the affordable housing issue, it’s not up to the PenaVegas to solve a housing crisis.

Commissioner Keaka Robinson said that while it may not be the commission’s job to create housing, members had the power to stop vacation rentals from overcrowding neighborhoods.

“I don’t get upset when I see people come, because it’s money and it’s math,” Robinson said. “If you get a house and you can rent it out, wow, you can cash in. But what it is, is a hurt, not upset, but hurt, because people are getting second homes when somebody can’t even get a room.”

The commission needed five votes to approve the permit. It fell just short, 4-1, with Robinson opposed, prompting Chairman Lawrence Carnicelli to defer it.

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