On an island in the Pacific Ocean, where development options are naturally limited, a severe housing deficit needs to be met with clear vision, determination, and dispatch. This was how the REALTORS® Association of Maui stepped up earlier this year, when a well-intended bill approved by the County Council threatened to undermine affordable housing development. With a member and consumer Call For Action supporting the mayor’s veto of the bill, the REALTORS® helped steer housing policy back on track, and underscored their role as industry experts.
The bill in question, explains Government Affairs Director Jason Economou, sought to alter the way the state’s ‘fast tracking’ for affordable housing is administered in Maui County. Though it was ostensibly intended to increase the required affordability percentage for such projects, research by the REALTORS® determined that the actual effect would be to reduce affordable housing production by making it unfriendly to developers. “It is already super-difficult to build in Hawaii, and business will take the path of least resistance,” points out Economou; “the high burden this bill placed on developers wasn’t based on any evidence-based data, and was going to drive them elsewhere.” After the County Council had approved the bill over the objections of the REALTORS® and other industry groups like Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation, Habitat for Humanity, and the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, Economou lobbied the mayor for a veto, explaining in clear economic terms how devastating it would be for housing on the island. To Economou’s great surprise, he received a call from the mayor soon after. “He told me that our arguments made sense, but that he would need us to rally support around a veto. I got off the phone with the mayor,” says Economou, “and I called NAR.”
The CFA that the REALTORS® Association of Maui sent out was positive and upbeat, stating that the mayor had “looked at the evidence, listened to the experts, learned from the mistakes of the past, and vetoed Bill 10….” It encouraged a robust show of thanks for the mayor’s action, and urged REALTOR® members and members of the public to call on the County Council to abandon the misguided bill and let the veto stand. The pressure campaign met its mark, and the REALTORS® will forge ahead, reports Economou, seeking alternative solutions to the island’s affordable housing crisis:
“We are big proponents of the Affordable Housing Fund of Maui, and are in favor of putting plenty of resources behind in-fill and transit-oriented development projects,” he says. “We also support the County’s work on a promising new Individual Development Account program that will teach skills to aspiring homeowners through capacity building classes and volunteer hours with local housing providers, while also providing down payment assistance. We are also strong supporters of community land trust models. It is going to take action on many fronts to solve the shortage, and the REALTORS® are all in.” He emphasizes how grateful they are to have the power of the REALTOR® Party behind them: “Our members are dealing with billions of dollars in real estate, but the actual community of REALTORS® is very small. The resources of the REALTOR® Party help raise our profile, make us legitimate, and get us the attention necessary to make our expertise heard.”
To learn more about how the REALTORS® Association of Maui has made itself a respected voice in the increasingly urgent effort to develop affordable housing, contact Government Affairs Director Jason Economou at email@example.com or 808.308.9015.