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Community Viewpoint: Why no trailer parks on Maui?

Have you ever wondered why there aren’t any trailer parks on Maui?

Or why “tiny home” villages haven’t caught on in the islands yet?

With the cost of housing displacing more local families every day, these affordable alternative communities are noticeably absent.

So what’s preventing their development?

Ironically, there are not actually any explicit legal barriers, according to the Maui Planning Commission’s zoning division.

Chapter 19.12 of the Maui County Code, which covers apartment districts, apparently allows for trailer parks and tiny-home villages. In fact, a developer could legally build a village with more than 30 tiny homes on a 10,000 square-foot, multi-family, apartment-zoned lot. Yet, no development of this kind has happened.

One likely reason is the difficulty of finding and acquiring apartment-zoned land; there isn’t much of it available.

Bureaucratic red tape is also a problem. Trailer parks and tiny-home villages aren’t illegal, but there aren’t any rules for them either. Hawaii’s permitting process is already daunting and sluggish. Being the first to attempt an unprecedented development idea comes with massive financial risk due to community and legislative roadblocks that can stall a project until it goes bankrupt.

There is one entity, however, which was able to cut through the red tape: the government. On Oahu, Kahauiki Plantation — a public/private tiny house village for the homeless — has begun development.

While this is a great step forward, it is still only one village, and it is only on Oahu. In order to encourage more developments of this type, entrepreneurs should be enabled to pursue innovative solutions such as these.

On Maui, explicit language to the Maui County Code could be added that would allow parks for mobile homes and tiny houses. If there were specific rules for developers to follow when building these unique projects, many challenges could be mitigated. Taking on the financial risks of homebuilding isn’t a simple undertaking, and helping Maui’s developers feel safe would do much to encourage them.

Another remedy could be what is known as a “design registration program”. The county could pre-approve building plans for several generic manufactured homes and tiny houses, streamlining the permitting process. Developers could then build to the specifications already approved.

Maui County has already begun implementing such a program for traditional housing permits, so applying it to mobile homes and tiny houses wouldn’t be a stretch.

Another strategy, recently enacted by the mayor of San Francisco to address that city’s housing crisis, could be to place deadlines on issuing permits and completing environmental impact statements — a policy that could benefit Maui.

Whether these routes or others are taken to encourage homebuilding — whether of mobile homes, tiny homes or traditional single-family houses and condominiums — government officials need to explore every option to address Maui County’s housing crisis.

More houses are needed in the islands now, and Maui entrepreneurs could help bring them to market, if only they had the incentive and freedom to do so.

Aaron Lief

Aaron Lief is a researcher at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, an independent non-profit research organization.

The MAUIWatch Community Network invites readers to express their views in the Community Viewpoint. Community Viewpoint columns should be on or around 800 words. Community Viewpoint submissions are subject to editing. We do not print letters announcing events to come, extensive quotations from other material, open letters or form letters. Send to contact (at) mauiwatch (dot) com

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