HONOLULU — State Sen. Angus McKelvey said an ambitious $500 million plan to provide long-term stable housing to Maui wildfire survivors still lodged in hotels and other short-term accommodations ignores the needs and concerns of those it’s intended to help.
Gov. Josh Green, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and other partners announced the plan at a news conference at Maui Lani, one of the designated relocation sites, on Friday, the same day McKelvey joined members of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means on a site visit to the Lahaina burn zone.
“I felt disappointed upon learning about the state and county administrations’ unexpected joint announcement regarding their interim housing plan,” McKelvey said in statement released on Saturday. “Essentially, the plan will not only continue to exacerbate the rental market’s hyperinflation but also displace West Maui families by relocating them to long-term accommodations at Maui Lani, severing their community ties.”
The Maui Interim Housing Plan is a joint commitment by the state, Maui County, the Hawaii Community Foundation, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross to create more than 3,000 long-term stable housing units.
More than 2,400 households representing nearly 6,000 individuals are still being housed in about 30 hotels across Maui via a non-congregate sheltering program operated by the American Red Cross.
The Maui Interim Housing Plan includes a variety of approaches, including the return of residents to original, undamaged residences; the Host Housing Support Program; direct leasing; short-term rental transitions and new permanent developments.
The plan calls for eligible individuals and families to be moved to long-term stable housing by July 1. The state and county have been working with FEMA to extend arrangements for families staying in hotels while the transition occurs.
However, McKelvey, who represents West Maui, Maalaea, Waikapu and South Maui, said many affected residents work on the west side and have children who attend school in the district.
“Forcing them to relocate, even temporarily—which history shows could mean years—to Maui Lani for housing is illogical when viable options exist in West Maui,” McKelvey said. “Typically, it takes an hour to travel from Maui Lani to the West side on a Monday morning. Now, add trucks hauling debris and increased tourist traffic, and daily standstills become inevitable.
“How can this be a sensible plan?” he asked.
McKelvey said the proposed alternative for families to remain in West Maui will exacerbate inflation by forcing families to pay day rates for short-term rentals.
“This could leave survivors struggling to cover the rent gap if government support falls short,” he said. “Moreover, by paying landlords high rates akin to FEMA levels, this program sets inflated rates as the new norm across Maui. As a result, residents are facing non-renewed leases and skyrocketing prices. Calls for decisive action against those exploiting the situation have yielded only policies that further inflate rental prices.”
McKelvey also took issue with Green’s Ninth Emergency Proclamation on Wildfires, which exempts housing agreements for those displaced by the fires from landlord-tenant statutes; waives State Archives Division fees for copying, certifying and other services related to records that verify identity, property and individual rights; allows liquor licencees who lost their business location to transfer operations to another site within the county under temporary licenses or permits; and excludes dairy and non-dairy milk, ice, and rentals of motor vehicles from the temporary prohibition against price increases on the island of Maui.
McKelvey said the proclamation should have addressed “rampant” rental price gouging for residential and commercial properties and hyperinflation within the overall rental market. He said the community will have a greater chance to provide input when the state Legislature reconvenes on Jan. 17.
“Our government, founded on checks and balances, has so far failed to adequately represent survivors, overshadowed by decrees from other parts of Maui, the state, and the country,” he said. “Every community deserves to stay close to its roots during crises. Just as Manoa residents would find forced relocation to Wahiawa shocking, so do the people of Lahaina. We must prioritize preserving Lahaina’s community on the West Side in our interim solutions.”