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Gov. Green threatens new April ban on West Maui vacation rentals

CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Gov. Josh Green announced the One Ohana Maui Recovery Fund during a news conference today at the State Capitol.
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CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARADVERTISER.COM

Gov. Josh Green announced the One Ohana Maui Recovery Fund during a news conference today at the State Capitol.

Gov. Josh Green wants to house any wildfire evacuee who specifically seeks to move back to West Maui following the Aug. 8 wildfires — including those currently ineligible for federal housing assistance — and threatened Tuesday to ban short-term vacation rentals if owners of 175 West Maui units do not commit by April 1 to renting to fire survivors.

“I will continue to consider the possibility of a temporary moratorium on short-term rentals on West Maui if we don’t have enough housing for our people,” Green said.

There are still 1,744 people living in hotels, and Green wants to find all fire survivors long-term housing in West Maui, along with evacuees who do not qualify for Federal Emergency Management Agency housing assistance because they are undocumented or are Compact of Free Association migrants from the Federated States of Micronesia.

At a news conference Tuesday in his fifth-floor offices in the state Capitol, Green used a bovine epithet to describe his frustration with owners of 89,000 short-term vacation rentals across the islands who continue to rent only to tourists or refuse to sell their properties to residents in a state that needs 50,000 affordable housing units to help slow the exodus of island residents fleeing to more affordable states.

“We have a housing crisis on our hands that just got worse because of the fire,” Green said. “When I get animated about short-term rentals, like I did a minute ago, it’s because we’ve got 89,000 short-term rentals in the state of Hawaii of which only 14,000 are legal. That’s 75,000 units in our state that are not available. If you recall, we’ve said on multiple occasions that if we had 50,000 units in our state available, our local people wouldn’t be pressured to leave. So we have been out of balance on housing.”

For Maui fire evacuees, specifically, Green said, “I’m not playing around. People have been in hotels quite a long time, and it’s very difficult on these extraordinary people who have survived the wildfire.”

Green said there will be no need for a previously threatened ban on short-term rentals beginning Friday across Maui to find long-term housing. But he threatened a new April 1 ban on short-term rentals to spur landlords to provide long-term housing to accommodate all the fire evacuees who want to move out of hotels and into longer-term housing in West Maui.

“We have 1,746 households still in short-term hotels,” Green said. “That’s down from originally 3,000. It’s down, I believe, 44%. We still have a fair ways to go.”

Among all of the efforts to increase the inventory of housing on Maui, Green called the conversion of vacation rentals into long-term rentals for wildfire survivors “the most important one to talk about right now.”

“We are trying to get everyone that wants to stay in West Maui a place,” Green said. “It’s near their school. It’s near their job. … We still are going to need some additional housing on the West Maui side.”

Initially, 7,996 people needed housing after the wildfires, which dropped to 1,744 now from 4,185 — representing 597 households.

Green said he has implored the highest levels of the federal government to pay for leases to house fire survivors in Maui condos that “they don’t normally do. And that’s going to decrease the number of people on the noneligibility list very significantly. It will at least save us $43 million.”

He hopes that 735 families ineligible for federal housing aid “will drop by another 200 or even 400 so our costs will be much less.”

“We don’t turn our backs on our people,” Green said. “We show the aloha spirit.”

For owners of vacation rentals in West Maui, Green said, “I have an ask today. I’m asking today people to consider who live in West Maui to offer an additional 175 short-term rental units.”

“We’ll make sure the houses are well cared for,” Green said. “I’m appealing to people. … It’s important. It’s important.”

As an incentive to get more West Maui property owners to rent to survivors by April 1, Green offered $5,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit, $7,000 for a two-bedroom, $9,000 for a three bedroom and $11,000 for a four-bedroom unit, along with owners not having to temporarily pay property taxes.

He said the guaranteed monthly income “breaks down pretty favorably” compared with market rates, in addition to financial incentives that units will be rented year-round, along with lifting the burden of having to pay property taxes.

“They’re used to getting some very large number per night, but they may only rent for 18 nights and they pay property tax,” Green said. “In this case we’ll be guaranteeing them the full month coverage, and it’s pretty consistent with the market rates. … The complexity of every single case ends up meaning that people end up staying in hotels longer, and they are wrestling with the effects. I’ve never seen a problem this complex before, not as a physician, not during surgery, not fighting it out during the Legislature. We’re wrestling with people’s needs. … We really want people to be secured.”

For more information, visit helpingmaui.org/offer.

RENTAL INCENTIVES

In an effort to get more West Maui property owners to rent to survivors by April 1, Gov. Green offered:

>> $5,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit.

>> $7,000 for a two-bedroom.

>> $9,000 for a three-bedroom unit.

>> $11,000 for a four-bedroom unit.

>> A temporary break on paying property taxes.

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