Thursday, April 9, 2015

Housing on Maui Can Make You Cry

Housing on Maui can bring a grown-up to tears. It’s tough on the other Hawaiian Islands as well. Dealing with housing and finding a place to live is like kindergarten where all the other kids have that shiny, new toy that your parents can’t afford to get you.

Why does housing in Hawaii make people crazy?
  • Not enough houses.
  • Not enough affordable houses. I’m not sure what the current definition of “affordable” is but it’s probably $400,000 and up. Gulp.
  • Substandard houses. According to a friend who manages apartments on the East Coast, housing stock on Maui is inferior. Meaning, termite-eaten tear downs that are not permitted, built to code, or are built badly. (It’s crappy on the other islands too.)
Wait, do people actually have to follow codes? What do I mean by codes? Oh, plumbing codes, electrical codes. Ha ha ha ha ha. The jungalow we rent has very creative telephone and electrical wiring, aka it is “not to code.”

The Hawaiian Telcom guy came out and shook his head at our telephone wiring. We later discovered a live wire under the house that didn’t connect to anything and wasn’t grounded. 

It seems the further away from "town" (and the building inspectors) the more the building codes are ignored, and the funkier the houses can get. Unless it’s a resort area.

Houses are often creatively constructed here. I’ve seen at least two houses that had toilets outside, on the deck. Not even a proper bathroom. A friend bought a house and said the laundry room was built around the existing washing machine and sink. If they ever had to replace their washing machine or sink, they would have to tear down the walls to move anything.
Houses are often not permitted, or are illegal. No one applied for a permit to build them, so they don’t exist in the County Records but they were built anyhow. Sometimes the house is legal, but renovations to the house are illegal. Owners who are caught (usually neighbors tattle on them just like in kindergarten) end up having to pay lots of back taxes and fees to the County for non-permitted renovations, or tear them down.

Houses are frequently built of wood, which is kind of sad, because eventually the termites get to it. Wood is probably cheaper to build in the short run, but in the long run, is expensive to maintain.

A creative jungalow.
In other parts of the world, the house is a barrier against the weather.  In Hawaii, the barrier between inside and outside is just a suggestion. Houses don’t have to be super strong, so all we need is one good hurricane to turn our street into matchsticks.

Many homes do not have AC. In Hawaii, one wants to embrace the weather and let the cooling trade winds blow through the house, because that’s part of island living. Our homes are equipped with resident bugs and geckos who also understand that inside and outside are only concepts, not actualities.

Alternatives to houses are condos or apartments. We have some apartment buildings, but they seem to be outnumbered by condos, especially in resort areas. Some people like condo living but not the maintenance fees, which usually go up every year. I’ve known people who got behind in their maintenance fees and lost their condos.

Condo living presents its own challenges. In some condos it’s a war between the full time residents and the tourists. Issues about noise, pot smoking, and parking surface again and again between vacationers and owners.

Likewise, in some neighborhoods, the issue of vacation rentals is controversial. Some residents complain that tourists are affecting the quality of life on their street, or that housing that could go to local residents is being rented to tourists.

While there is a lot of complaining about the housing situation, there are not a lot of solutions. One answer is Tiny House Hawaii, a local movement for people to downsize into little houses that are 260 square feet and are portable. Zoning and building codes are not really supportive of this movement yet.

Here’s a question to ponder: If there were enough houses for everyone now to buy or rent, would there be enough houses for everyone who wanted to move here? That’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to look at.

Related posts:
A Visit to A Quintessential Jungalow
The Concept Behind Maui Jungalow

Here's a shortcut to the archives for the A to Z Challenge and other blog posts.

The theme of this year’s A to Z Challenge is Living on Maui: A Beginner’s Survival Guide. While I can’t include everything in only 26 short blog posts, this is my foolish attempt.

If you are participating in the A to Z Challenge, please use either Disqus or Facebook to comment below. Please include your link so that I can visit you back, but it might be as late as May!


  1. This is such an interesting insight on Housing in Hawaii. Glad to have connected with you through AtoZ. :)

  2. The state of housing in Maui that you describe sounds horrible and it's surprising to me because I thought Maui would be a nice island for people who want to retire or those who desire living on an island, as it seems like it would be more peaceful and comfortable than many other places, especially in many U.S. states with the "always on," "go, go go" way society operates.

    2015 A to Z Challenge Co-Host

  3. Newer houses are spared these issues, and Maui is nice for people who want to retire and have LOTS of $ to buy a nicer, newer house. Yes, living here is more peaceful and relaxing, but the housing can be frustrating (if you are not making enough money). Also, because its' not a "go go go" place, housing repairs and maintenance are put on the back burner for a lot of people because it's not "urgent."


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