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Struggle for Housing on Maui

Noe Tanigawa
Noe Tanigawa

Affordable housing got a boost on Maui recently when Governor Ige signed a bill that will help keep rents stable for 142 apartments on Front Street and build more affordable rentals in Lahaina. In the first of a series about housing on Maui, HPR's Noe Tanigawa reports on Maui's struggle to match incomes to housing costs.


Vince Bagoyo Jr. is president and owner of V. Bagoyo Development Consulting Group. LLC. He served as Vice President of Castle & Cooke, Inc. on L?na?i from 1993 to 2003, where he helped plan L?na‘i’s transition from predominantly pineapple production, to tourism.  Bagoyo was also a Maui County Council member from 1991 to 1992; Director of the County of Maui’s Department of Water Supply from 1984 to 1990; and Maui County Director of Housing and Human Concerns from 1982 to 1984.  Currently, Mr. Bagoyo specializes in workforce housing, and offers one perspective on the challenges involved.

“When I was Director of Housing and Human concerns under Mayor Hannibal Tavares, I think that was the last administration that developed homes for working people.”

That was in the early 1980’s.  Currently, Bagoyo is the consultant or developer for several affordable housing projects underway now on Maui, including one on Waiale Road.

He and partners are currently pitching a 100% affordable workforce project, Wailuku Apartments, on 12.5 acres on Waiale Rd.  They’re scheduled to present to the County Council August 1st 2018 for approval for these 80 homes at 70% of median income.

Bagoyo:  We’re going to ty to bring this down to 70% of the AMI which is very risky work!

AMI is the area median income, a measurement used to determine affordability.  Maui has ordinances  for affordable projects, with stringent requirements that were loosened before the current increase in developer interest. 

And there’s another development regulation O‘ahu does not have.

Bagoyo:  If you want to build a hotel, the current code is for every 4 hotel units you have to provide one affordable housing unit.  

Bagoyo says this law applies to residential, condo and hotel units.  The formula for supplying worker housing for commercial projects—malls and retail---hasn’t been worked out yet.  Off site credits can be used.

Bagoyo:  I guess the simple explanation is, you have to provide employee housing for any development, except commercial. 

Bagoyo:  It’s very restrictive and I think in a way it’s a good thing.  We need to provide affordable housing for our workforce.  Otherwise, what’s happening on Maui and I think this is happening across the state,  there’s this gentrification that’s taking place that only the offshore buyers, the well-to-do, are now enjoying the best places that our local people used to live.  I’m trying to convince our elected officials we need to start looking at bringing those plantation villages again for our own people.

Think where those old plantation villages were:  Kapalua, K?‘anapali, Paia, Olowalu, Lanipoko, Pu‘un?n?.  Who is living there today?

Bagoyo:  That’s the reality that’s taking place here on Maui, specifically.  Especially when certain groups are against a development in certain areas that used to be plantation villages.  What’s happening today is those areas are being bought by offshore rich people as opposed to working people.  And I’m in that business.  I’d like to build homes for working people.

Challenges? Land is pricey, and the approval process is so onerous, it’s cheaper, easier, and more lucrative to cut the land into ag lots for gentlemen farmers.

Bagoyo worked with the Spencer family in their efforts to build an 1100 home workforce development project about ten years ago.  Community opposition, got it downsized to 250, and finally, the Spencers gave up.  They’re going to sell the land as 21 ag lots.

Bagoyo:  Spencer right now, they’re going to keep it as ag.  It’s allowed by law to cut it into 21 agricultural lots, so that’s what’s going to happen.  That’s what I mean about who are we trying to help?  Are we trying to help the well to do? Or are we trying to help the working people that’s the choice our leadership has to make.

Bagoyo:  When I was Human Concerns and Housing Director, the County developed homes for working people.  We’ve done it before.  Why not do it again?

Did the county have more money then?

Bagoyo:  No, I think it’s a matter if leadership on the part of elected officials to make it a priority and bring people in their administrations that know how to do the work.

Bagoyo says well-meaning regulations stand in the way of progress.

Bagoyo:  They’re supposedly to protect people but on the other hand, the net effect is that the people we are actually protecting are the guys really getting hurt.  The rich people can find those expensive homes, so what happens is our working people are getting hurt because some of those policies and environmental interventions, there are a number of things that create uncertainty on the part of builders. Who actually want to do it and want to help.

Bagoyo points out it’s not just the government either, vocal community groups are strong on Maui.  A realtor who prefers anonymity says, every immigrant to Maui’s shores wants to be the last one in the door, and that’s been going on for generations.  Faith Action for Community Equity, FACE, is one group that has been working for a long time on housing issues.  Stan Franco is their Housing Committee co-chair.

Franco:  The state did a study in 2015 saying we need 14,000 homes by 2025.  We’re building about 400 homes now, not all of that is affordable.  Nobody on Maui wants to make another Honolulu here on Maui, so we need to decide where are we going to put these homes. 

Franco:  Our young people are leaving to the mainland because they cannot stay here, our families are doubling and tripling up with each other, people are living in tents, we cannot do this to our people.

Bagoyo:  I hurt for people.  I’ve been there.  My family has been there. I don’t want to see our working people not to own a home, because that’s the only equity and savings they have that they can pass on to their children and grandchildren. 

These days, some people don’t want to own, some want to rent.

Bagoyo:  If you want to move the working people into the middle class, you have to provide them with a house.  That’s what many of the agricultural workers did.  They were given the opportunity to own a home and guess what?  That was the only equity they had in a lifetime.

Bagoyo:  If you’re at 80% AMI you have the opportunity, and what better way is there to build equity?  47% on Maui are renters now, but there are probably more than 47% because there are multiple families in one house.  It creates social problems when you have multiple families in a crowded home.  Those are the kinds of things I see and many of them are my friends and my family.

Even after decades of struggle, Bagoyo says he knows land owners willing to get involved, and believes legitimate environmental concerns and traffic concerns can be worked out with community dialog.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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