Why I Won’t Sell Property To People Who Do Not Call Hawaii Home

Why I Won’t Sell Property To People Who Do Not Call Hawaii Home

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All of us who do call the islands home stand to benefit from adjustments in the long-term rental and housing markets.

I’m a Lahaina real estate agent who used to make money off of vacation rentals. Now, I’m standing against them.

There are two starkly contrasting realities of my home. There’s the Lahaina of my childhood, a tight-knit community anchored by local staples like Nagasako General Store, and families who, like mine, have deep roots stretching through generations. In Lahaina, the love for our place is fierce and unyielding.

Yet, juxtaposed against this is the Lahaina I’ve encountered as an adult — a landscape transformed by tourism, where Airbnbs outnumber neighbors and our homes are marketed as picturesque escapes. As a real estate agent who used to sell some of these properties to nonresidents, I was a part of the problem. Now, I’m standing firm for a solution.

As a Lahaina native with more than 10 generations before me, my bond with this town runs deep. I’ve never wanted to leave Lahaina because it’s not just where I live; it’s my home, it’s where my heart is.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed too many families being pushed out, their roots severed by skyrocketing living costs, losing those who cherish this place as much as I do, and fragmenting our community.

In the devastating aftermath of the Lahaina fire on Aug. 8 that destroyed my hometown, and after witnessing even more families forced to leave, I’ve grappled with the uncomfortable realization that my work in an industry catering to the highest bidder inadvertently perpetuated the colonization of my home.

Governor Josh Green signed into law SB2919 on Friday May 3rd, 2024 which addresses the issue of illegal short-term rentals. SB 2919 aims to alleviate Hawaiʻi's housing crisis and increase housing levels throughout the state. This bill provides counties with home rule authority to see that vacation rentals are not allowed in communities that do not want them. It was instigated b y Lahaina Strong a grass roots movement headed by Paele Kiakona who spoke to those witnesses gathered to see the bill signed into law. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)Governor Josh Green signed into law SB2919 on Friday May 3rd, 2024 which addresses the issue of illegal short-term rentals. SB 2919 aims to alleviate Hawaiʻi's housing crisis and increase housing levels throughout the state. This bill provides counties with home rule authority to see that vacation rentals are not allowed in communities that do not want them. It was instigated b y Lahaina Strong a grass roots movement headed by Paele Kiakona who spoke to those witnesses gathered to see the bill signed into law. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)
When Gov. Josh Green signed into law Senate Bill 2919, which addresses the issue of illegal short-term rentals, members of Lahaina Strong were on hand. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)

As a real estate agent pre-fire, I saw unchecked short-term vacation rental growth deepen our housing crisis and displace locals. After reflecting on families unable to afford housing post-fire, I shifted focus, joining Lahaina Strong to prioritize community housing over profit.

Lahaina Strong stepped up to address the need for immediate housing after the fire. This included the call for a transition of the Minatoya list — a notorious catalog of vacation rentals originally intended for workforce housing — from short-term vacation rentals into long-term housing for residents in dire need of new homes.

We fought hard during the legislative session and were successful in urging our government to pass Senate Bill 2919, which allows individual counties to phase out short-term rental units over a reasonable period of time.

According to the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, “48% of all pre-fire housing units in West Maui are STRs. Since the fire primarily destroyed West Maui’s resident housing in Lahaina town, the STR percentage in West Maui is an even higher 51% now. Furthermore, since so much housing is taken up by second homes, just 34% of pre-fire housing in West Maui [was] for residents. Post-fire, the West Maui resident housing percentage is even worse at 32%.”

I was a part of the problem. Now, I’m standing firm for a solution.

Currently, 6,208 STR’s comprise 87% of the Minatoya list, and 96% of these properties are located in West or South Maui. What this information shows us is that these rentals, if converted into the long-term workforce housing that they were originally intended for, would be able to house most, if not all of those who lost their homes in the fire while also allowing them to stay in or near Lahaina.

Of course, this may seem like a clear solution which would keep people housed in the same town where they work or where their children attend school, but there has been much pushback from STR owners who do not want to open up their homes to locals due to the decrease in revenue from their property. According to recent statistics, the income generated from short-term vacation rentals in Hawaii is staggering.

In 2023 alone, these rentals raked in over $3 billion statewide, most of which flowed to non-resident owners who live in the continental U.S. and large corporations. The long-term benefits of truly sustainable tourism and thriving local communities far outweigh the short-term gains of unregulated vacation rentals that primarily benefit their private owners, not our local economy.

It is no wonder our people have been so displaced.

This vicious cycle of putting profit over people needs to end. By reclaiming residential properties for long-term rentals and implementing strict regulations on vacation rentals, we can create a more balanced housing market that local families can participate in rather than being priced out.

The real estate market may experience some chaos before stabilizing, but in the long run, all of us who call this place our home stand to benefit from the adjustments in the long-term rental and housing markets.

While my decision to stop selling properties to those not calling our islands home might not be for everyone, but I know I’m making the right choice to speak out against short-term vacation rentals.

What makes Lahaina so special is not just our place, but our people, which is why we need to keep our community together. I urge others to consider their position and put our people over profit as we confront the impact that our choices have on all of Hawaii.

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