Hawaii is a popular state to call home, and it is also a costly place to call home. While we need less of everything to function here, we need more of one critical basic: housing for Hawaii residents. Decades of restricted development of housing units, an increased cost of living, wages that have not kept pace and a lack of zoning or lack of zoning enforcement make finding housing of both the rental and permanent variety most challenging. As one who grew up here in Hawaii and who is a career Realtor with 33 years
of experience on Kauai, I can affirm that simply building units is not the answer. To overcome Hawaii’s housing shortage, our counties across the state need to adopt a long term vision that is consistent from one county to the next. Without a concerted effort, we will continue to lose housing units, erode our neighborhoods and way of life, lose our culture and create a greater gap between those who have and those who are a few paychecks away from a shelter.
In the 1970’s and 1980’s vacation condos hit the map, most particularly on the outer islands, and while this type of accommodation represented a much smaller piece of the pie than hotel rooms, owners of these properties appreciated having a toe hold in Hawaii and a means of offsetting their expenses. Similar to the condo owner, paying guests saw the benefits of a vacation condominium vis a vis a hotel room due to the added elements of a kitchen, washer and dryer, dining area and a more comfortably sized living space.
By the 1990’s and early 2000’s the vast appeal of vacation rental condominiums warranted developers to step on the gas in delivering product to market. Not to miss the vacation rental wave, individual developers delivered ready-made homes designed for vacation rental tenants and homeowners in established neighborhoods began to rent nightly, oblivious to whether or not their actions were provided for by zoning. Yes, things were running amuck and everyone made money.
So here we are in 2018, where every noteworthy global hotel operator has a presence in Hawaii and where the state is covered from one corner to the next by VRBO, AirBnB, TripAdvisor, Homeway, Craigslist and similar varietals renting rooms, condominiums, vacation homes and in some cases tents. Data from the visitor industry (those who pay taxes) reflects a visitor industry with a stellar occupancy and revenue performance. While our performance as a world class destination is unchallenged, the State of Hawaii is failing its constituents by faltering on housing, a core basic when it comes to quality of life. We must move now to balance the needs of tourism and the state’s labor force. In short, no labor – no workforce – bad for tourism. No one wants to see Hawaii follow Venice, Italy by losing its soul in favor of institutionalized and unaccountable tourism.
Senate Bill 2963 keeps Hawaii in control, not the booking engines who don’t have any skin in the game. This Senate Bill still needs refinement, namely deleting the suggestion that a County could adopt ordinances to amortize or phase out transient vacation rental units that have been issued legal permits to operate. Not fair! Despite this, the bill is on the right track. Here on Kauai, the real estate industry appreciates the efforts of our Planning Department, which was the first department in the state to grapple with the visitor industry’s far reaching arm. Congratulations to Mike Dahilig and his team at the the County of Kauai Planning Department for taking the long view. Those of you who live elsewhere examine the Kauai model – it works by making each of us accountable to our neighbors.