Leaders with Bold and Real Solutions Needed to Meet Maui’s Challenges… Elections are just one year away!

Leaders with Bold and Real Solutions Needed to Meet Maui’s Challenges…
Elections are just one year away!

Can you believe we are just a year away from electing new leaders for our County? Our community faces many challenges. Visionary leaders are needed to act on behalf of our residents and our visitors.

During every political campaign, candidates promise to address and solve problems. We ask our current leaders, “Have you fulfilled your promises? What have you delivered?” Voters ask themselves who deserves to be re-elected and which leaders should get our votes.

A beach in a South Maui resort area during the statewide lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic shows a pristine and serene, sandy shore. Photo: Ceasar Lizada

This is a critical time for citizens to exercise their right to vote. Voting in Hawai‘i is now more convenient than ever. No stamp required when you vote by mail. No more excuses!

Some of the most daunting issues to be urgently addressed include domestic violence, drug abuse, homelessness, mental illness and much more.

At the top of the list is the housing shortage for our residents. This crisis must be faced head-on. Not being a new problem, it has been talked about by many elected officials for over two decades and yet it gets worse year after year, with no real solutions in sight. The main root of this crisis is the lack of affordable housing. For decades, Maui County failed to build enough housing to keep up with housing needs, creating a shortage that has pushed up prices for all homes. It is not surprising the median price for homes on Maui has now reached over $1 million and climbing, making it even more difficult and unaffordable for many hardworking families, even when they work at more than one job. Unfortunately, housing costs have risen much faster than wages.

Low-income households have borne the brunt of rising rents. When people must spend so much on rent, they have little cash left for savings, children’s education, healthcare and other essentials, and still left with hardly enough to buy spam and Vienna sausage. With a temporary loss of income due to the pandemic and unexpected expenses, they easily fall behind on their rent and will soon face eviction.

A source of assistance is Hawai‘i Community Asset, a nonprofit organization which was contracted at a cost of $300,000 by the Maui County Council to complete a Comprehensive Housing Plan for Maui. This plan was recently submitted to the Council for review and consideration. The plan calls for 5,000 housing units built within five years to supposedly address Maui’s housing crisis at an estimated cost of a whopping $1 Billion or more (yes, with a big “B”). Can Maui afford to spend this huge amount of money to address this crisis? Our hope is this plan will not be another study collecting dust on shelves but will be implemented with bold leadership. There have been multiple housing studies done in recent years but somehow real change has been illusive, lacking in both focus and action.

A beach in Kaanapali—a West Maui resort area—after the statewide lockdown had been lifted, shows shore birds lounging on the beach. Photo: Ceasar Lizada

Another challenge facing Maui is the impact of tourism on our local lifestyle. This issue was magnified during the lockdown, at which time we enjoyed not having traffic problems on our highways and having the beaches all to ourselves. Some have called for “no more tourists,” but without any reasonable solutions to replace our tourism industry, on which we have heavily relied upon for economic stability. Most of our residents are employed in tourism and related businesses. Without our visitors, there would be many unintended consequences such as high unemployment—even more homelessness—and families unable to send their children to pursue lifelong dreams of a higher education as well as an inability to pay for mortgages and rents, leading to an increase in social problems. Moving to a no tourism policy is not a viable option. We need to find that delicate balance.

The question should be, “How do we best manage our tourism industry to lessen the impact on our local way of life?” I believe we can do both if we all work together to create, discuss and agree on real solutions.

The COVID pandemic highlighted many of the problems and weaknesses Maui is facing and may continue to face if we do not have the collective resolve to address them. It will require leadership and community unity to move forward with real solutions for our day-to-day problems.

It is in the voters’ hands to choose our leaders in next year’s election. We urge all to get involved early … to get to know the candidates … and then to VOTE.