I was living on my own at 16 and went through periods of housing insecurity. I’ve slept on couches and in my car. Without stable housing it’s very difficult to make progress in other aspects of life.
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At 18 years old, while working as a waitress, I bought an inexpensive home with a low down payment FHA loan. Having secure housing allowed me to take custody of my younger sibling, to find a better paying job, and set me on a course to put myself through college (and get an engineering degree).

Stable housing changed the trajectory of my life, and that is why I am passionate about making housing accessible to everyone. Trying to buy a first home should not feel like an impossible goal to young working people who were born and raised here.

Maui County is rapidly losing teachers, nurses, first responders, child care providers and doctors to a cost of living that is too high and a record low housing supply. These members of our community are the same people who volunteer to coach youth sports and organize beach clean-ups. They make our community better. Solving our housing crisis will pay off huge dividends in the long run with more family stability and stronger communities.

Mayor Victorino in the Maui News this week stated, “Stable prosperity will come from evolution, not revolution.” The article implies that small incremental changes and actions are the way to go.

I disagree. Our median housing prices have increased over 20% in the past year. Not attacking this problem aggressively and quickly will be extremely detrimental to our community. There’s no simple answer or single silver bullet to solve this crisis. Many different solutions need to be implemented at the county level to alleviate our housing shortage.

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Housing is an issue the candidate is passionate about. She is making it central to her run for Maui County Council. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

As far as building affordable housing we need:

  • Housing for rent or sale that will stay affordable in perpetuity

  • Grants for nonprofits who provide long term affordable housing

  • Development of more affordable housing on county owned lands

  • Active county cooperation to facilitate the development of housing by DHHL

  • Incentives for developers to agree to provide permanent affordable rental housing exclusively for long term tenants

  • Use tools like land grants or leasehold type property (with restrictions to the lease or deed) to reserve properties exclusively for long term tenants or homestead use

  • Policies streamlining construction of 100% workforce or affordable housing with a commitment to provide some or all of the off-site infrastructure needed

  • Viable long term solutions for our inadequate water and sewer infrastructure.

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Some developers have chosen to put up unnecessary roadblocks for residents wanting to purchase workforce housing, such as not allowing FHA financing (common loan program for first-time homebuyers), or requiring abnormally high down-payments for workforce housing (15-20%). These obstacles need to be prohibited for any development that receives county support or incentives. Often first-time home buyers bring 3-5% as a down payment for a mortgage. Requiring developers to accept more normal loan types and down payments for workforce housing would help local families.

Although we have a housing crisis, we have to balance our housing needs against our goals to be more sustainable. We have limited water, limited sewage capacity, and limited land. To build ourselves out of this crisis is not realistic. We do need more affordable housing developed, but new construction cannot be the whole solution.

We need a “carrot and stick” approach to return existing residential property now in the hands of out-of-state owners to the local market:

  • Reward property use we need (long-term housing for residential use)

  • Make it more costly to use property in a way that creates a burden on residents (such as properties that stay empty for most of the year or properties that provided residential housing in the past but are now accommodating vacationers)

  • Reduce the number of legal visitor accommodations to achieve compliance with the Maui County Plan provision capping our visitor to resident ratio at 1:3.

We not only have a housing shortage, but also a crisis in the availability of housing for Native Hawaiians and families with children. Maui County desperately needs to address rampant housing discrimination through measures like:

  • Enforcing fair housing laws and educating landlords and home sellers about them

  • Preventing landlords from collecting application fees from multiple prospective tenants and then choosing their favorite tenant (ripe for discriminatory practices)

  • Banning evictions and lease terminations without good cause, and strengthening tenant protections

  • Provide some form of representation for tenants, either through the local real estate association, a nonprofit, or the county. Without tenant representation, it is difficult to assure that tenants are treated fairly and that fair housing laws are being followed

  • Create more housing options for Native Hawaiians.

For years I have been trying to get something done about our housing crisis. It’s happening but not quickly enough. Working people shouldn’t be forced to move into someone’s living room, camp out, live out of their car, or move to the mainland. Too many people are housing insecure. Too many hard working families are suffering.

I have some depth of knowledge about housing and that is why I’m running for the Maui County Council, Kahului seat. I can no longer stand by watching people in our community suffer from our housing crisis and not try to do something about it.

Find out more about the candidate on her website or Facebook page.

About the Author

  • Cara Flores
    Cara Flores is running for Maui County Council (Kahului seat). She has been a real estate agent for 15 years, a mom of three school-aged children, former foster parent, a community advocate, and a long time volunteer. She has led and been part of several organizations, ministries and nonprofits. Cara is passionate about improving the quality of life for local residents.