ʻĀina Kūpuna Tax Relief Bill Moves Forward


Hawaiʻi’s state and county governments should never allow real estate speculation by wealthy off-island/foreign investors to tax Native Hawaiian families into poverty or off of their ancestral lands. And yet, this is a scenario that has played out too many times across the pae ʻāina since statehood.

In March 2020, Ka Wai Ola ran a story about the Chang-Kukahiko ʻohana of Makena, Maui, who for years has struggled to pay astronomical property taxes to hold on to the ʻāina their ʻohana has lived on for nearly 140 years, and where many of their kūpuna are buried.

Decades of resort development and real estate speculation in Makena – including the construction of multi-million dollar mansions along the coastline of this former fishing community – has resulted in property taxes so high that by the 1980s, most of the residents of this once predominantly Hawaiian community had to sell their land to avoid foreclosure. Today only a small handful of families remain on their ʻāina kūpuna in Makena.

For these families, and other ʻohana in Maui County facing the same issue, relief may be in sight.

Maui County Councilmember Keani Rawlins-Fernandez has introduced “A Bill for an Ordinance Relating to ʻĀina Kūpuna Lands,” which would amend the county tax code relative to real property taxes for land dedicated as “ʻāina kūpuna.” The bill was passed out of the Budget, Finance, and Economic Development Committee on September 29 with two amendments and more than 200 testifying in support.

The bill identifies “ʻāina kūpuna” as land owned, in whole or part, by a lineal descendant, or a trust, nonprofit organization or similar entity where the majority of shareholders are lineal descendants, of the person who held title to that property on or before June 30, 1940.

“Legislation to protect Kānaka ʻŌiwi on their ancestral ʻāina should have been passed long ago, but thankfully we are passing it into law now to prevent more ʻohana kupa from being priced out,” said Rawlins-Fernandez. “I would be honored to work with our counterparts on the other county councils to pass similar legislation to benefit Kānaka ʻŌiwi.”

If signed into law, the bill would allow the lineal descendants of ʻohana land to “dedicate” their land as ʻāina kūpuna. ʻOhana lands dedicated as ʻāina kūpuna would be levied the minimum annual property tax (about $350/year in Maui County). During the 10-year dedication period, the land cannot be sold to a non-lineal descendant. To maintain ʻāina kūpuna status, ʻohana must renew the dedication before the 10-year period ends.

For ʻohana like the Chang-Kukahikos property tax relief cannot come soon enough.

“Our property tax last year for the Kukahiko Hale was $73,192.11, and this year’s tax was $83,311.08,” said ‘ohana representative Keiki Kawaiʻaeʻa. “Our tax debt for the past two years, plus late fees and penalties during the COVID pandemic is now $177,495.11.

“The tax keeps escalating with each high-end speculation house that is sold in the community. Most of these new owners are not residents of Hawaiʻi and when they purchase these high-end homes, local and long-time kamaʻāina families are pushed out from their ancestral lands by property taxes that end up being levied way beyond what local family incomes can afford. This bill is the first of its kind that acknowledges the struggle and provides much needed support to ʻohana with ʻāina kūpuna.”

After its success in the Budget, Finance, and Economic Development committee, the bill moved forward to the full council. The bill will require a majority vote each time at two separate council meetings, pursuant to council rules. It will then be sent to Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino for signature.

Assuming the bill is successful in changing Maui County’s tax code, it will set a precedent for other counties to consider similar tax relief for Native Hawaiians and other long-time kamaʻāina and multi-generational families who are being taxed out of their homes.

The Maui County Real Property Assessment Division is already accepting contact information from potential ʻāina kūpuna applicants, as the deadline to apply for the current fiscal year will be December 31, 2021.

Interested property owners should email rpa@co.maui.hi.us to request placement on the ʻāina kūpuna application mailing list. The email should include the following information: name, the TMK for the property, and a mailing address. The division plans to mail applications to those on the list, and to upload the application to the mauipropertytax.com “forms” link within two to three weeks after the bill is formally passed.

Additionally, as a result of separate legislation related to Kuleana Lands, a new application form for exemptions under Maui County Code 3.48.554 Kuleana Land and Kuleana Act Government Grant Land is now available on the mauipropertytax.com “forms” link.

To read the original article about the Chang-Kukahiko ʻohana’s fight to hold on to their ‘āina kūpuna and watch the Taxed Out video go to: www.kawaiola.news/cover/taxed-out/