New owners of one of the last Lahaina apartments with workforce rents reversed course Friday, announcing that no immediate evictions or rent increases will occur at Lahaina Crossroads.
The decision comes in the wake of a Maui Now story on Lahaina Crossroads Apartments tenants facing evictions and possible rent increases at the 767 Luakini St. complex.
Meanwhile, tenants peacefully protested Saturday in downtown Lahaina to spotlight the lack of workforce housing that happens when big money scoops up properties and Maui residents are priced out.
The issue is larger than Lahaina Crossroads, according to organizer and tenant Aaron Kamaunu.
“We’re holding this rally to basically keep people informed that, ‘Hey, you need to wake up and realize what’s going on in your own backyard or at your front doorstep,’” he said. “The rich are just taking over. Those with millions can buy out Maui — and where are the locals going to go? Where are they going to go?”
“We need our leaders to do more to stop it from happening,” Kamaunu added.
Top-floor Lahaina Crossroads tenants, some of whom are kupuna and have lived in the apartments for decades, received 45-day notices in May to vacate by June 30 after the 20-unit, four-story building was purchased by Mousa Hassan and Jubran Mousa Jobran on April 27. Kamaunu said property manager Kokua Realty LLC told residents they would have to move out due to floor-by-floor renovations. Then, rent would nearly double to $2,200 for a one bedroom.
Lahaina Crossroads owners in a statement Friday said renovations to the entire building, which is more than 60 years old, will be deferred until the beginning of 2023, and owners will allow residents to stay in their apartments under their current rental agreements and at current rates.
“Increased building expenses, expected to rise with current rates of inflation, will be assumed by the ownership, while rents will be held at current rates,” owners said via a Maui public relations firm. “No additional costs will be passed on to the residents. Ownership will subsidize rents until next year.”
Owners are aware of the potential for the county to purchase Lahaina Crossroads, and they are open to negotiations with the county, the statement added.
Mayor Michael Victorino in a statement Friday said he has been in communication with the new owners of the Lahaina Crossroads Apartments.
“I can report we are moving in a positive direction to provide tenants with stable housing while our social service system works to help them find alternative accommodations,” he said.
“I want to remind everyone that the sale of this apartment building was completely legal, and Maui County has no authority to dictate decisions made by the new owners,” Victorino added.
A resolution by Maui County Council Member Tamara Paltin, whose residency seat covers West Maui, would authorize the county to purchase the Lahaina Crossroads building. Published Friday, the resolution must still be considered by council and it does not carry the force of law.
Hawaiʻi Workers Center, a nonprofit advocating for workers, sent a petition to the council and to the mayor seeking legislation for situations when Maui County tenants are being evicted “without just cause,” including a 90-day eviction notice, right of first refusal, with only a 10% increase in rent, when a landlord is going to remodel and $1,200 in relocation assistance.
Housing advocate Stand Up Maui held an online affordable housing committee meeting Wednesday evening to discuss Lahaina Crossroads and a Wailuku apartment complex that is in a similar situation.
Some nonprofit members pitched ideas of rent control, eminent domain or the county buying existing apartments with affordable rents to keep workforce housing.
Six Lahaina Crossroads tenants shared their stories during the meeting.
Tenant Etina Hingano, who grew up on Maui, said a lot has changed in recent years. People are buying housing around the island and increasing rents despite cramped quarters and lacking amenities.
“These are the kind of people coming in and buying — people who don’t care about the people here in Hawaiʻi,” she said. “It’s all about money with them.”
“All we want is a place to live so we can work and keep local people in Hawaiʻi,” Hingano added. “I don’t want to move. . . . We were raised here our whole lives.”
Late Friday, Kamaunu, 60, said he was happy to hear Lahaina Crossroads owners would allow residents to stay longer under existing rents. The change will benefit tenants, such as Lahaina native Freeman Tam Lung, 79, a first-floor resident who has lived in the building for nearly 20 years.
“I am happy that they are doing that,” Kamaunu said. “It gives time for the other tenants here to find a place.”
Others, though, such as Kamaunu and his wife, Katherine, 71, already made arrangements to leave Hawaiʻi. He said he asked management earlier for an extension because he had suffered a broken shoulder, but it was declined.
“Why did they have to wait so long?” he asked.