Not Just a Pretty Picture: a glance at the purchasing of predatory land in Hawaii

  With another American summer comes the American-flavored natural disasters, and no city or state is completely safe. From the latest 2023 uno reverse card of wildfires on the east coast and tropical weather storms on the west, the nation’s favorite island state and only island state is now facing the aftermath of its main course: the wildfires on the island of Maui.  

  Much of the backlash and uproar online has been directed towards the Hawaiian government for failing to prepare for such an event and accusing the existing infrastructure on the islands of serving tourists and vacationers better than its own people, and it is not hard to see why. 

  On social media such as Twitter and TikTok, images of several celebrities’ multi-million Hawaii vacation homes perfectly untouched by the devastating fire have been circulating the internet. These pictures sparked several conspiracy theories that claimed the fires were intentionally started by greedy corporations in order to buy the damaged land from desperate homeowners, a tactic known as predatory land buying. While the theory has been proven false since many of the richest houses are not located anywhere near the fires, to begin with, the tactic is very much real. 

  Make no mistake, companies, corporations, and bored billionaires do not need a major natural disaster to capitalize off of others’ misfortune- because they have already been doing it for years. 

  In places like Hawaii, where tourism is king thanks to its glistening seas and swaying palm trees, land is in high demand. From corporations looking to open the next tourist hotspot to the world’s wealthiest elites hunting for their next vacation home, these hunters have been setting their sights on Hawaii as their target. 

  But what do they do when the prime real estate of their idyllic dreams already has people living on it? Simple. They buy it out by any means necessary. Native Hawaiians who have inherited the land from previous generations have been persistent about keeping their land, but it hasn’t stopped billionaires such as founder of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg from suing the landowners and then claiming their land. Now in the aftermath of the fires in Maui, which greatly affected the heritage town of Lahaina, many prospective buyers are shamelessly pressuring families to sell their land for much-needed cash. 

  All this demand coupled with a  competitive supply has also driven up Hawaii’s cost of living, to a point where many Native Hawaiians can barely afford to live on their own lands, and thus have to eventually sell their lands anyways to move to the mainland United States. The high cost of living is largely due to-, you guessed it- tourism in many parts of the island, that attracts many mainland Americans to live in Hawaii, creating a demand that directly impacts the actual residents of Hawaii. This stacks on top of Hawaii just being an island, which requires many of its resources and necessities to be shipped from the Mainland, since the island can no longer sustain itself. The more financial pressure there is, the more reason it is for Native families to move out in order to seek a better life.   

  Concerns rose for predatory land buyers as soon as the Maui fires hit the media. Subsequently, the Hawaiian government has insistently promised that it will do its best to aid families, stating, “We will be making sure that we do all that we can to prevent that land from falling into hands of people from the outside. It’s not easy to do in some cases,” and added, “You can be sure I will not be allowing anyone to build or rezone or do anything of that sort if they’ve taken advantage of anyone here.” 

  But the public was not satisfied, especially since it sounded like the government was going to start acquiring land to “protect” it, whose protection status could heavily fluctuate depending on the corruptibility of current politicians. As a lesson learned from time, the government is not a foolproof method of protection, especially when it comes to matters of property. Many people concerned about the island’s safety online know that putting this matter into the government’s hands is a bad idea- and the Native Hawaiians know it too.  

  In order to keep the Hawaii islands owned by Native Hawaiians, it must stay in their hands. 

  For far too long, Hawaii has been portrayed as nothing more than a blissful paradise that somehow only exists for our enjoyment, overshadowing the many indigenous communities that have lived on the islands even before it was declared a state in 1959. Hawaii is home to its own population of people with just as rich a culture, different from the stereotypes, which have been commercialized to no end. 

  While this does not mean that you should not plan a vacation in Hawaii, it does mean that you should not overstay your visit, similar to going to a friend’s home. Usually, you can stay the night or a few, but once you start occupying a room in their house, things become weird.  

  While billionaires being bored and greedy comes as a surprise to no one, it is still a horrifying thought that such a tactic as buying land off of people who just lost their homes exists. However, since such billionaires are not exactly being subtle about constructing their eleventh vacation home, there are just as many groups fighting for change in the Hawaii legislature. 

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