Tuesday, September 6, 2005

pinch housing

A survey says that one-fifth
of Maui and Kauai owners
are mainland residents

WAILUKU » A new survey shows mainland residents own about 20 percent of the homes in Kauai and Maui counties.

SMS Consulting examined property tax records across the state to determine how many units had owners with mainland addresses.

Mainlanders owned 8 percent of the dwellings on the Big Island. Honolulu had the lowest ratio of the state's four counties at 4 percent.

Many of the houses and apartments owned by people who live outside the state are believed to be vacation homes the owners stay in for less than a month each year. They often rent them out to short-term vacationers when they are not staying in them.

Maui leaders expressed alarm at the numbers, saying they underscored the need for affordable housing for people who live on their islands.

"Whole communities on Maui are getting lost," says Maui County Council member Bob Carroll. "We have entire streets in Haiku where there are only two or three Maui residents left."

Overall, SMS found that mainlanders owned 13,000 condos and single-family homes in Maui.

SMS disclosed only the survey's general findings because it hopes to sell the complete results to government agencies and other organizations.

"For Maui this is shocking," said Faith Rex, president of SMS Consulting. "It's so extreme, it's so huge and it's recent, too. As a community, you're undergoing huge changes quickly, and that can be very unsettling."

Danny Mateo, chairman of the Housing and Human Services Committee on the Maui County Council, is fearful that the influx of rich mainland investors is creating a society of "haves and have-nots."

He said now that his committee has finished deliberations on the Hale Mua subdivision, it will begin crafting a long-overdue affordable-housing policy to get developers to provide more homes for the working class.

"Certain segments we need to take action on right now," said Mateo. "We need to change the numbers now."

Mateo also wants to look at restructuring property taxes on different types of agricultural land. Currently, agricultural lots used as "gentlemen estates" might pay the same rate as working farmers.

Hawaii has some of the most expensive housing prices in the nation while wages are below the national average.

The median price of home in Maui County was $679,000 in July, while on Kauai it hit a record of $700,000.

Pay in the state is low, in part because the state is dependent on low-wage service-sector jobs in the tourism industry. Hawaii's overall average wage stood at $36,300 in 2004, below the national average of $37,020.

The gap is straining workers and families.

"An ordinary person making minimum wages has got to work two jobs just to survive," said Jo-Ann Ridao, executive director of Lokahi Pacific, an independent, private nonprofit housing and community development organization.

"You're always so tired. How can you find a balance? How can you find the time to volunteer and make a difference in your community?"

Jon Matsuoka, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Hawaii, said "the social divisions are becoming more and more clear" as wealthy mainland owners snap up more homes at breathtaking prices and property taxes rise for old-timers.

"Ultimately, people forced out of the housing market and into substandard housing have more stress factors with the rising cost of living," he said. "If they're only able to secure service positions that usually don't pay well, they'll have to work multiple jobs and deal with stress that often leads to things like substance abuse and domestic violence."

The tensions are also cropping up elsewhere, he added.

"There are race and class issues associated with this," continued Matsuoka. "You don't have rich Hawaiians living on the mainland buying these homes. Racial tensions are escalating around the Akaka Bill and the sacrosanct Hawaiian (entitlements) being challenged by people who don't think they're deserving. You have to look at the social ecology of this."

Maui Council member Carroll has introduced a bill to control vacation rentals.

Carroll said the bill would allow current operators of vacation rentals to obtain special use permits, but the permits would not transfer if the property were sold.

He hopes law would prompt the units to be owner-occupied or available for long-term rental once they are sold.

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