Lee Cataluna: Waikiki isn’t just for tourists. People live there too

You line up at the airport and the person in front of you tries to convince screening officers that their carry-on baggage is small enough to fit in the overhead compartment. You watch because it’s fun in a ‘at least I’m not that desperate’ way.

The drunk passenger is asked to pay the money to check in the bag. No, no, you see? Everything fits. Just let me crush that and crush that together. The! It closes!

Same amount of stuff, just as heavy and still too big. Only now the macadamia nut cookies and the plush turtle doll are almost destroyed and the zipper holds for life.

Dealing with Hawaii’s touristy situation is feeling like that, like just rearranging things and squashing things, rather than having fewer visitors to the islands.

On Wednesday, Honolulu City Council will conduct the first reading of a bill to crack down on vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods, a situation that has affected the quality of life for many Oahu residents and removed the long-term rental housing market. .

For the most part, Bill 41 offers a bold relief to communities where strangers come and go, park wherever they want and party late into the night; but as the suitcase is too full, part of the bill is pushing vacation rentals elsewhere and would crush affordable housing for residents.

On the bright side, the bill rolls back a 2019 measure that would have allowed up to 1,700 new vacation rental permits in zoned neighborhoods, which was truly a backward way to reduce the problem. It also increases the minimum booking from the current 30 days to at least 180 days.

Fines for illegal vacation rentals would drop from $ 10,000 per day per violation to $ 25,000 per day, and transitional vacation units would be taxed at the same rate as hotels. Of course, vacation rental owners are crazy. They wouldn’t be making the kind of money they made in the good old days, when tourism was insane before the pandemic.

View of Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head with significantly fewer visitors lounging on the beach.
Waikiki is known around the world as a tourist hotspot, but people live there too and therefore need affordable housing. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

The common argument is that homeowners should be able to do whatever they want on their own property. But if that was the case, a body and paint shop might appear in the house next to their vacation rental and they couldn’t complain, although they probably would.

Part of the bill, however, is not about controlling the number of vacation rentals, but rather opening up areas where they would now be permitted. The bill proposes to open up resort areas like Waikiki, Ko Olina and the area near Turtle Bay Resort for residential apartments to be converted into vacation rentals.

Christine Otto-Zaa has worked for years to stem the proliferation of unauthorized “monstrous houses” in Honolulu. She is concerned that allowing residential units in Waikiki to become vacation rentals is fueling the same problem of crowding out local residents.

Otto-Zaa says there are over 19,000 units in Waikiki – from funky sidewalks near the Ala Wai to more glamorous buildings near Kapiolani Park – currently in residential use that could become vacation rentals. She is worried about where these long-term tenants will go.

“I know a lot of people think Waikiki is ruined anyway, so let the tourists go wild there. But there are a lot of low to middle income residents who live there, and not just the rich. Taking this housing away from residents is of great concern when we have a housing crisis, ”said Otto-Zaa.

“And then what happens when those 19,000 units are turned into vacation rentals, you force density into surrounding neighborhoods like Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo and McCully, where we already have density and overcrowding issues. with monster houses and vacation rentals. So what they are offering in and around resort areas will exacerbate the need for housing, ”she added.

Council Chairman Tommy Waters, who represents the Waikiki District, has previously expressed concerns about this specific part of the bill.

“As a member of the council for this district and as president of the council, I work to create housing for our local families, not to take it away from them. There are many residents living in Diamond Head and the Waikiki Apartment District whose quality of life would be negatively affected by the de facto expansion of beach resorts in their neighborhoods, and I look forward to amending the bill. to resolve this problem, ”Waters said in a statement. E-mail.

It can be strange to think of trying to save Waikiki for local residents. In some ways, this area was abandoned to be lost a long time ago. But workers live there. Families live there. Retirees live there. If they have a choice between getting a monthly rent of, say, $ 1,900 from a long-term tenant or getting a per night rate of $ 100 to $ 130 from visitors, landlords tend to favor the latter.

The bill is only at first reading, and a lot can change, but this is an example of how difficult it is to solve a problem by just moving things around and not actually reducing the huge volume. that is causing the problem.

About Derrick Hill

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