Lahaina Crossroads renters Etina Hingano and her husband work three jobs to make ends meet.
After hearing that her apartment building may be purchased by the county to stay in workforce housing, Hingano breathed a sigh of relief. Lahaina Crossroads tenants faced eviction earlier this year after the property changed hands.
“Oh wow,” she told Maui Now on Tuesday. “My reaction is really good because then it’s going to stay for the people of Lahaina.”
“My other reaction is like, OK, now what? Do I have to leave and come back? Do we reapply?” asked Hingano, who has lived in the apartments for seven years.
Maui County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve on first reading a budget amendment that would allocate up to $11 million of the county’s Affordable Housing Fund for the purchase of 20-unit Lahaina Crossroads. The bill now heads to second and final reading.
Introduced by Council Member Tamara Paltin and supported by Mayor Michael Victorino, the bill would preserve the building as workforce housing in Lahaina, where affordable inventory is among the most lacking on Maui.
Paltin and Victorino, who have negotiated with the new owner, said the owner’s intent was to covert the apartments to hotel use, which is allowed by the district.
When questioned by Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura about whether the owner will profit $4 million from the sale, Paltin said she’d rather the county acquire the property than see it turn into another hotel operated by offshore investors.
“If this falls through, there’s no doubt off-island interests will be paying way more for it than 11 million dollars and that it will be a hotel — there’s no doubt in my mind,” she said.
“Let this be a lesson to all of us that we need to be more proactive and get these types of properties before speculators do and preserve our housing inventory.”
“This is a hard lesson to learn, it’s an expensive lesson, but we can’t allow it to continue to happen because we are already struggling and it will get much worse,” she added.
County property tax records show that the building was purchased for $7 million in April. Previous owners had purchased it for $4 million in 2016.
Paltin said the sales price is not final, it can’t exceed $11 million and a property assessment needs to be done. She encouraged the council to move expeditiously because there is a willing seller and renters are living in unstable housing conditions.
Council Members Kelly Takaya King and Mike Molina during the meeting pointed to Māʻalaea Mauka as an example of what happens when the county drags its feet.
The state and the county had set aside money to buy the land and keep it in open space, but the owner grew tired of waiting and sold it to a private developer. Now, the council is considering eminent domain for the land.
“We should focus on keeping people in affordable housing,” King said about the Lahaina Crossroads proposal. “We have seen what can happen if we don’t move quickly enough.”
“That was certainly a hard lesson,” Molina added. “Time is of the essence; we don’t need more people facing houselessness.”
The vote was 7-0, with Paltin and Council Vice Chairperson Keani Rawlins-Fernandez absent and excused. Paltin was unable to vote due to technical issues.