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Members of Lahaina Strong flew to the state Capitol on Thursday for the second time this legislative session to urge passage of either of two House and Senate companion bills that would give counties the option to phase out short-term vacation rentals on their islands.

During an often impassioned and emotional news conference inside the Capitol rotunda, seven members of Lahaina Strong were joined by state Sen. Angus McKelvey (D, West Maui-Maalaea-South Maui) and state Rep. Elle Cochran (D, Waihee-Lahaina- Lahainaluna), who urged passage of the latest versions of House Bill 1838 and Senate Bill 2919 in the remaining weeks of the legislative session, which is scheduled to end May 3.

On Wednesday, Gov. Josh Green declined to use his emergency powers following the Aug. 8 wildfires to impose a ban on short-term vacation rentals in West Maui that could have gone into effect Monday, freeing up longer-term housing for fire survivors who want to remain in West Maui.

Paele Kiakona, one of Lahaina Strong’s organizers, said he understands why Green did not impose a moratorium but argued that short-term rentals have “run rampant” north of Lahaina, where he said 87% of the housing consists of short-term rentals.

Much of the housing built in Maui’s apartment zones from the 1960s through 1980s originally was rented to working families but have since focused on tourists, Kiakona said.

Now short-term rentals and tourists have “infiltrated” neighborhoods, Kiakona said.

“Yes, we may not need a moratorium,” Kiakona said. “But we still need to tackle this short-term rental issue.”

Nearly 60% of Maui residents have moved away “because the short-term rental industry has exacerbated the housing market and made it way too expensive for anybody to even afford a family home here in Hawaii.”

By giving counties the power to phase out short-term rentals, working families will be better able to stay in Hawaii and possibly expatriates will choose to return, Kiakona said.

Katie Austin, another Lahaina Strong organizer, said giving counties the ability to phase out short-term rentals “gives them home rule” and the “chance to determine their future.”

She hopes that passage of either HB 1838 or SB 2919 will “start that STR (short-term rental) conversation not only for Lahaina and the west side of Maui, but for all of Hawaii.”

Green did not impose a ban on West Maui vacation rentals on Wednesday but said he ordered state Attorney General Anne Lopez to create a task force focused on illegal short-term rentals.

He threatened “severe penalties” for owners of illegal rentals, including potential seizure of their property by the state to be used by local residents.

Hawaii needs 50,000 more affordable homes at a time when Maui has an estimated 31,000 legal and illegal short-term vacation rentals.

Statewide, Green estimated that 75,000 of Hawaii’s 89,000 vacation rentals are illegal.

On Thursday, Lahaina Strong organizer Courtney Lazo cried as she described the situation for fire survivors like herself.

She and her family lost their home in Lahaina and want to stay in West Maui to grieve among family and friends, as opposed to continue living in hotels “living amongst tourists.”

Fire survivors, Lazo said, are “holding onto hope that they can remain in their community.”

“I don’t think people understand how important it is for the Lahaina community to stay together and heal with their community,” she said.

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