On Oahu, our state and local government just can’t resist the urge to make things more complex.
The recent passage of Honolulu City Council Bills 85 and 89 have been lauded as a win for the community against the scourge of illegal vacation rentals and the shortage of affordable housing. In reality, these measures will make it harder for struggling locals to make money, and they punish enterprising individuals for the crime of making money without the government’s approval.
Punishing vacation rentals in the hopes of helping the community and improving housing is nothing short of schizophrenic policy. We are a state that has, either by accident or design, chosen to make tourism our primary industry. The state spends millions of dollars every year in wooing the world to Hawaii as a tourist destination, only for the City Council to frustrate and insult tourists by passing legislation that makes it more inconvenient to stay in Hawaii.
Long gone are the days when we greeted outsiders with a kiss, a lei and an invitation to enjoy themselves on Oahu. Like third graders on a field trip, tourists today are warned to be seen and not heard, and there are even rules for where they should go, what they should do, and who they should do it with.
While being polite and respectful to a host’s culture and lands is clearly an important part of being a guest anywhere in world, tourism is a hedonistic industry that markets to people who are seeking a release.
Our policymakers also are being dishonest when they conflate affordable housing shortages to vacation rentals. This argument assumes that a property owner would be renting to locals if they weren’t renting to tourists. There are many people who specifically pitch short-term rentals to tourists because of their ability to pay higher rates – this is key to their business model of making money with minimal overhead.
To suggest that someone who has purchased property has no right to profit and has to break even for the altruistic sake of the greater good is the epitome of government elitism. The failure of availability of affordable housing on Oahu and in Hawaii rests on the shoulder of our government planners, not on enterprising small business owners and individuals.
The City Council needs to recognize that making something illegal or strictly regulated won’t change people from doing what they want. Millennials in particular are extremely adept at leveraging technology and unusual marketing techniques; it is almost certain that if the city can’t eject squatters from Waipahu, they won’t be able to stop local millennials from bringing tourists into neighborhoods.
Donald Eovino, a property manager for 45 years who has frequently testified before the City Council, says that there are around 10,000 vacation residential units on Oahu which amount to just 2% of the housing stock. Eovino, who owns and manages legal vacation rental properties, argues that the bills recently passed by the City Council will result in greater unemployment, less economic activity, and even more homelessness on the island as a result of their impact on the local market.
“The City Council is focusing their energy on the wrong track and instead, they should provide funding to hire more personnel to approve the backlog of building permits on their desks now,” Eovino wrote in a 10-point summary of concerns to the council. “Focus more on accelerating and permitting affordable housing. That will solve the affordable housing crisis, not shutting down vacation rentals.”
When asked in an email about what he thought would be a better alternative the city could take regarding community complaints about vacation rentals, Eovino said that the issue needs a closer look.
“Find out the actual number of registered complaints,” he says. “Most of these problems are handled by the current building and zoning codes regarding noise, loud parties, over-parking and litter.”
When asked if he thought the recent bills on vacation rentals represented a pattern of self-defeating policies in Hawaii, Eovino said, “Everyone knows you have to pay a paradise tax to live in Hawaii. Half the population survives on government jobs or government subsidies, and the other half have to live in the entrepreneurial world to survive by being creative or getting two jobs or three jobs, and live with their families. The one party system creates a pattern of creating more government oversight and eats up our tax dollars. Our government is anti-business and as an island, we will not thrive if this continues.”
We need to stop sabotaging small businesses and local property owners for doing in their neighborhoods what the big companies are doing in Waikiki or Ko Olina. Making money in Hawaii is hard as hell, and people have every right to game the economic system that is rigged against them in real estate, tourism, and money.
Don’t punish entrepreneurs, punish the incompetent government that rules over us. If you want to make Oahu more affordable, make it easier for all of us to make money without someone to stand in our way.
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Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.