Maui plan targets longer-term housing for wildfire victims – Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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KAHULUI >> Gov. Josh Green, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen and other government and nonprofit partners committed $500 million Friday to collectively create more than 3,000 interim units for Maui wildfire survivor households.

The plan was outlined in a memorandum of understanding signed by Green, Bissen, Hawai‘i Community Foundation President and CEO Micah Kane, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement President and CEO Kuhio Lewis, FEMA Field Coordinating Officer T.J. Dargan and American Red Cross Assistant Director of External Relations Mary Simkins.

There are approximately 1,459 Maui households living in various forms of mid- to long-term housing, and the plan’s goal is to increase that to 3,071 by March 1 and optimistically to more than 4,200 by July 1.

To make that happen, the partnership has pledged $500 million in funding through July 1, with $250 million coming from FEMA, $150 million from the state, $40 million from the county, $50 million from the Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund, $5 million from CNHA’s Kako‘o Maui fund and another $5 million from other philanthropic organizations.

Green said more than 2,400 households that were displaced by the fires have been in short-term hotel housing for the past five months and need stable housing options for the next 24 months while more permanent housing is explored. The plan aims to have them out of short-term hotel stays by July 1.

Green told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that the plan will use the $500 million to secure large numbers of longer-term housing units by March 1 and to meet the additional aspirational goals by July 1. However, he said if more money is needed, FEMA has pledged some $698 million so another $450 million or so could be made available.

“We all know that it is too challenging to continue to live in hotels. We need to get people into stable housing so that they can move on with their lives,” Green said during the news conference, which was held at Maui Lani, a site in Kahului where some 34 units will be built to supply midterm housing for the plan.

The collective plan relies on displaced residents who have insurance to use that resource and for residents to return to their residences if they are able. For those who still need housing, the collective plan makes stays available in host family programs, non-short-term hotels, accessory dwelling units/temporary dwelling units, and temporary housing built by FEMA and by private and memorandum- of-understanding partners. It also needs short-term rental and second-home owners to at least temporarily convert their units to longer-term use.

Green, who earlier threatened an emergency moratorium on short-term rentals on Maui if enough owners did not volunteer to convert their units into longer-term housing for fire survivors, said he will hold off on that decision until March 1. He said 700 short-term rentals and second homes are in the long-term rental program so far. His hope is that this number will double by March 1 to meet a 1,500 goal, which along with other housing would be sufficient to stave off a moratorium.

Bissen said the county has offered a tax exemption for short-term rental homes, timeshares and non-owner- occupied properties that rent long-term to fire survivors. He said those who don’t participate in the long-term rental program could face tax hikes with increases determined by the shortfall created by the exemptions.

Green said this year’s state Legislature also is likely to consider a variety of bills aimed at short-term rentals.

Green and Bissen said they are actively working with FEMA to temporarily extend hotel stays to ensure displaced people have housing while the interim housing plan ramps up. Some 5,928 people remain housed in noncongregate shelters facilitated by the American Red Cross in more than 30 hotels throughout Maui.

Simkins said that’s down more than 25% from over 8,000 people at the peak.

FEMA Region 9 Administrator Robert J. Fenton said in a statement, “The colla­borative work occurring between state, county, the philanthropic and nonprofit communities on behalf of Maui, is unprecedented in ensuring everyone, including the most vulnerable, have the resources they need to recover. The action of this partnership, so early in the recovery process, demonstrates the commitment at the local level to support the Maui community.”

The plan also has garnered support from some members of Hawaii’s hotel industry, which has said that it cannot fully recover visitor spending and jobs while it is still housing displaced residents.

Keith Vieira, principal of KV & Associates, Hospitality Consulting, said hotels are not the best housing for displaced residents and employees, who need units with more space and kitchens to thrive.

Moreover, he said the current situation is confusing for visitors, “who are afraid of not doing or saying the right thing.”

“There’s no question Lahaina Strong holding a protest on (Kaanapali) beach makes it more challenging,” he said.

As of Friday the grassroots organization Lahaina Strong has been using fishing rights to camp on Kaanapali Beach for 57 days.

Lahaina Strong organizer Courtney Lazo on Friday issued a statement criticizing the “Maui Interim Housing Plan, and demanding that Green and Bissen use executive authority to promptly convert some of Maui’s 27,o00 short-term rentals and empty homes to long-term housing.”

“While it’s nice that the Governor and Mayor are now starting to listen, the over 3,000 families like mine who spent the holidays in these undignified hotel situations cannot wait until March or July to have kitchens, places for their pets, or enough space for their keiki and kupuna. The Governor’s deadline to have everyone displaced in dignified interim housing is July 2024, almost a year from the fires? How many more families will give up and move away by then? How many more will commit suicide? Do they not understand the urgency?”

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