2022 candidate interview: Michael Victorino for Maui County mayor
One of the political races getting attention around the state is the contest for the Maui County mayor’s office. Incumbent Michael "Mike" Victorino and retired Judge Richard "Rick" Bissen were the two top vote-getters in the primary election, with Bissen outpolling Victorino by 1,704 votes.
Victorino spoke to HPR's Bill Dorman about the challenge of how to increase access to affordable housing, and what he hopes to achieve in a second term. He was previously on the Maui County Council for 10 years.
What is your plan to improve affordable housing for Maui County families?
MICHAEL VICTORINO, MAYOR OF MAUI COUNTY: Our plan has been put into action over the last couple of years. Since the pandemic started to wind down, we've been working hard to make improvements in this area. Right now we've built over 1,400 new units in the last three years. We have nearly 800 under construction right this very moment, and over 5,000 in the pipeline to be completed over the next three to four years. And this is really important because we formed this public-private partnership, which is really unique for us here in Maui County. Developers and the county are working together to make sure these units are obtainable and affordable for rental purposes. And in the sense that they will be kept in some areas in perpetuity, in other words, very much like the Hawaiian Home model, there'll be some units that will always stay in this category, so that future generations can be able to utilize it. We've also purchased the wayside Lahaina apartments. And that's helped an awful lot, even though those are 20 units, but that kept 20 families from being displaced on the streets for short-term rentals. So we're building, we're buying, we're working real hard. And I think we have to focus over the next five to seven years to really get caught up and get ahead of the curve when it comes to workforce housing and housing for our lower-income classifications.
You've taken some actions to raise prices for nonresident property buyers. Do you feel there should be any further steps to make it easier for local residents to buy property than for someone who's not using that property as a primary residence?
We're looking into doing further actions. You know, of course, we have to keep it legal. There is a United States Constitution, or right to live anywhere in the United States and so we got to make sure we do it properly. But I think we are and we have already started. And we continue to look for methods that we can enhance the ability of our residents to buy, and make sure that those who are not occupying these units or not occupying these homes will pay more in taxes, you know, and that way, we can offset our affordable housing fund with these additional revenues so we can continue to build for our workforce. Our gap groups and especially our police, fire, teachers, our essential workers that every day are a big part of our community. They work hard, they're raising their families, they are a vital part of our community for all aspects of our lifestyle. And you know, we need to make sure we pay attention to them, not just the 80% or under but all the way up to 140% average medium income.
One related issue is rental housing. Would you have plans in your next term to look at any different strategies when it comes to increasing the pool of available rentals that are available in the county?
Yes, we are looking now to propose programs like lease-to-own, rent-to-own and this will give people a chance to work on their credit, build some equity, and either buy the unit they're in, if that's available, or save up and when they move out, then they would have some equity to purchase a unit somewhere else in the workforce housing developments that we are setting up. So there are many programs that we're looking at, we also have our first-time homeowners that we subsidize $30,000 for a down payment and closing costs. We're looking to increase that in the near future. You know, I think the difference between myself and my opponent is really, I believe that we are in a critical situation where we need to put our money where our mouth is, put the infrastructure so that development can be done, and that the savings will be passed on to our workforce and our residents that live here. And also make sure that our residents, multi-generational families have the opportunity to buy here and continue to live here and raise their families here. We're going to make them our priority to the extent of the law that allows us to do that.
On paying for the infrastructure developments that would be required in what you're talking about, what's the plan for payment on that?
We have a good chunk of money coming in for infrastructure through the federal infrastructure program that was passed by Congress last year. I think we're looking at something like between $86 million and $94 million coming to Maui directly. And that's a big, huge chunk of money that can help us upgrade and expand not only our wastewater system, our water systems, our sewer systems, and most importantly our R-1 reuse water systems that will help augment and ensure that the developments that come in will have the water and waste treatment systems. And more importantly, our new waste treatment plant that we're building here in Central Maui will be able to provide 12 to 15 million gallons of R-1 water every day for farming and irrigation purpose, right here in Central Maui. So there's some major plans that are in the work that we've already started, that hopefully in the next four years, we will be able to complete the vast majority of that. And we're not talking about what we're going to do, we're already started. And that's why I'm asking the residents for four more years to make sure we can get much of this completed, and whatever is not completed will be completed shortly thereafter for the people and residents, our multigenerational residents here in Maui County.
Another topic that gets a lot of attention — in terms of tourism, you support the Maui Nui Destination Management Plan, you've had a role in that, but beyond that, what needs to be done to balance the economic benefits of tourism with the living conditions of local residents?
We already started that when I first came into office. We declared that Sundays and holidays, no commercial activities will be done in our beach parks. And this way the residents would have Sundays and holidays for themselves and their families, not to traverse over surfboards and scuba tanks and windsurfing kites and all of that. Our parks are for our people, our residents, and that they can enjoy it on the weekends like that. In fact, we're going to ask the council to add Saturday, so it'd be Saturday, Sunday and holidays. So now our families can enjoy long weekends together where they can come in, enjoy the weekend with the family, and not have to be bothered by commercial activities in our beach parks. So that I started when I first came in, I want to expand on it. Other reservations, Park Maui is another program that we're putting together. And what that does is make sure that our residents will have free parking. Some parts of the day, the whole parking lot. Other parts of the day, they would have select area that would be free, and the visitor would pay for the parking that will be made available to them. That will augment and help us with repairs, maintenance, preserving our natural resources. This is what that money could be used for. And most importantly, our residents feel that they are our priority. And they always have been. And I want to make sure they are our priority, that they can come and enjoy the recreational facilities with their family and not be overwhelmed with the hospitality industry.
You don't agree with the Maui County Council's moratorium on construction of new hotels. What do you think might be a different approach to over-tourism that makes sense in a coming term for you?
I think, first of all, working hard and we have done a pretty good job of eliminating illegal vacation rentals, which is taking up our neighborhoods. Our neighborhoods are not made to be destinations. They're made for our residents to live and raise their families in. And so we've worked — 1,600 units have been taken offline and we're constantly monitoring these systems. Airbnb and Expedia signed the agreement with us about a year and a half ago and it's working out very well. But we got to be vigilant. Our enforcement agency is working real hard to make sure that there's not a major upsurge in residential units being taken out for vacation rentals or short-term rentals. The other part of this is making sure that we set up reservation systems for some of our attractions like we do at Haleakalā National Park, Waiʻānapanapa State Park, where people know today you cannot go because it's full, at capacity. And that's another method of making sure that we will have the proper balance between our hospitality industry and our residents. Remember Maui Nui is our home and is not a destination. So all the steps we've taken and continue to work together not only with our hospitality industry, but with our environmental groups, nonprofits, Hawaiian community — because it's their heritage, their culture that we need to continue to protect. It's all collaboration and relationships that we've built over the years and that's where we're moving forward. And I think we have a good, good plan that will be not only rolled out but already been implemented in some areas already.
What would you say your biggest achievement as mayor has been? What are you most proud of?
I think I'm most proud of the fact that we came to one of the most horrific times this world, this nation, and this state has seen — and our county was included. We are now regenerating our economy. We are diversifying with agriculture, technology, wellness and health care. Other programs are coming in. So with broadband being included, now that we are expanding our broadband system, I think this is what we've accomplished. We've turned the corner. And now we're moving forward. And we are building. We have almost 6,000 units that will be up and running for residents to live and enjoy their families here — work here in Maui County. And that's what excites me more than anything else: our accomplishment to make sure our residents really have a future here and not talking about it, but actually doing it.
And what have you not yet accomplished as mayor that you would want to achieve in another term?
The diversification of our economy. We've only started and the pandemic took two years away from almost all of the counties, all over the world, two years have been lost because of the pandemic. And now we are ramping it up, making those changes so that we can have livable wage jobs for our residents here, technology and areas of wellness and health care that we will be benefactors as residents also, that we will have that available. And then we don't have to always fly to Honolulu or maybe to the mainland for treatments, because we will have it available here, because the visitor wants to come here and get well. And wellness and health care will be our one of our major priorities. And we're working with the health care system here in Maui County to move in that direction. So there's so many things that we're excited about. But those have not been accomplished and we need to continue to focus on them because I believe the people of Maui County will be the benefactor at the end of the day.
Our interview with candidate Richard Bissen aired on Tuesday, Oct. 25.
The Conversation is also interviewing candidates for some county council districts, Kauaʻi County mayor, the U.S. House of Representatives, lieutenant governor, and governor. Click here for more.
This interview aired on The Conversation on Oct. 26, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.