“Vulture agents” are trying to buy up real estate in Hawaii for pennies on the dollar as wildfires continue, sparking outrage


“Vulture agents” are trying to buy up real estate in Hawaii for pennies on the dollar as wildfires continue, sparking outrage

Hawaii's Governor estimates that reconstruction will cost billions of dollars. (Hawaii National Guard/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

This week, Maui residents and Hawaii’s Governor Josh Green called attention to predatory developers trying to buy up properties in parts of Maui impacted by wildfires that have claimed over 100 lives. 

An official press release from the Governor’s office stated that residents “are being approached about selling fire-damaged home sites, by people posing as real estate agents who may have ill intent.” Governor Green claims that he’s currently working with Hawaii’s Attorney General to issue a moratorium “on any sales of properties that have been damaged or destroyed.”

Maui after the wildfires (Hawaii National Guard/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

Hawaii presently has the highest cost of living in the country, and Maui has long struggled with rising rents and land values. CEOs like Jeff Bezos, Howard Schulz, Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, and Peter Thiel each own mansions on the island. During COVID, those who could afford to fled Silicon Valley and Wall Street for Hawaii’s lush beaches, as reported by The Real Deal. Today, many feel as though developers taking advantage of the catastrophe will only heighten inequality on the island. 

“Realtors are calling families who lost everything, offering them to buy their property and their home for pennies on the dollar,” said Paele Kiakona, a Lāhainā resident. “It’s pretty offensive to us that people won’t even give us time to grieve properly,” Kiakona said. “People have lost family members. And for them to have that disrespect to come in and really try and buy things up is out of control.”

While actively putting out infernos throughout the island, locals have told reporters they’ve been getting cold calls from developers seeking to make a quick buck from the catastrophe. “Maui is not for sale,” Maui resident Tiare Lawrence told MSNBC. “It is important that the multigenerational families that come from Lahaina get to continue to live in our hometown,” Lawrence said. Since the wildfires began, Lawrence has been an outspoken critic against the developers on her personal Instagram, using her platform to warn Hawaiians and raise donations.

The wildfires from above (Hawaii National Guard/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

On August 11, AN reported that over 1,000 structures in Hawaii have been destroyed by the fires. Today, officials estimate that number is 2,200 structures, while close to 2,170 acres of land has been scorched. The outrage comes amid mounting frustration with POTUS’s response to the situation. Last week, President Biden issued $700 checks to individuals impacted by the disaster, a consolation that some have described as “insulting”. 

In recent years, other areas impacted by disasters on a scale akin to Hawaii’s wildfires have seen similar patterns unwind. After Hurricane Maria rocked Puerto Rico, Governor Pedro Pierluisi passed tax reforms to “slash individual and corporate rates” and encourage high-income earners like “crypto bro” Logan Paul to move to the island. Since the Hurricane, San Juan has seen some of the highest gentrification rates in the United States. “It feels like Hurricane Maria placed a ‘For Sale’ sign on the island,” Gloria Cuevas Viera, a Rincón resident combating gentrification in San Juan, told The New York Times.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has reported that 4,500 people in Maui need shelter.