Maui mayor targets short-term rentals, timeshares to address housing crisis after wildfire


(WAILUKU, Hawaii) — Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen hopes to incentivize short-term rental owners to use their units as temporary housing as victims of the wildfires continue to face housing insecurity issues.

His proposed bill, if enacted, would amend the County Code to exempt short-term vacation rentals, timeshares, and non-owner-occupied housing from paying real property taxes while they rent to residents who have been displaced by the Aug. 8 tragedy.

“I believe that a shared sacrifice is necessary at this time,” Bissen said in a statement Tuesday. “Owners who help our disaster-impacted families by making their units available will receive a tax waiver. While those who choose not to can help by contributing more in taxes to make up for the loss of tax revenue.”

Those who join this program can be exempted from property taxes between Feb. 20, 2024, through June 30, 2025, under this proposal. Officials have said the rebuilding process for structures lost in the blazes could take years.

Owners of properties assessed at over $1 million dollars who choose not to rent their property to displaced victims would see an increase in their property taxes, according to Bissen.

If the bill is approved by the County Council, it will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024.

According to Maui County, there are between 2,500 to 3,000 timeshare units, 12,000 to 14,000 non-owner-occupied homes, and 12,000 to 14,000 short-term rentals in Maui County alone.

In Lahaina, a town that was largely destroyed by the wildfires in August, 25% of housing units are listed as short-term rentals, according to research from the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. To the south of Lahaina, that percentage jumps to 41.8%. To the north, it jumps to 87%.

The bill seeks to address the exacerbated housing crisis that was worsened by the wildfires that tore across Maui late this summer. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes.

Displaced families have told ABC News that the lack of long-term rentals, as well as allegations of skyrocketing costs of rental units despite restrictions on price gouging, have made the relocation a daunting task.

Hawaii residents have some of the highest housing costs in the nation — 2.5 times higher than the national average — according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

According to state representatives, much of what was destroyed in the wildfires were affordable housing units.

As emergency housing comes to an end for some displaced families, officials have encouraged residents to find housing as hotels and short-term rentals sought to bring tourists back to the tourism-reliant community — much to the ire of residents, locals told ABC News in past interviews.

Residents have continued to place pressure on local officials to address the issue by making vacation rentals available for displaced residents.

Some residents have been camping out at a popular beach for tourists in a “Fishing for Housing” protest concerning the lack of housing policies.

“We plan to stay there for as many days as necessary to send a message that we don’t want to be ignored anymore,” Alfonso Basurto, a displaced Lahaina resident, and organizer of the protest, told ABC News in an interview days before the protest began on Nov. 10.

The proposed bill will be heard at the Dec. 5 County Council meeting.

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