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Monday, July 15, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Hawaii officials announce plan for interim housing in wake of Maui wildfires

The $500 million plan looks to short-term vacation rentals for help supporting the thousands who were displaced by wildfires in August.

(CN) — Almost six months after wildfires devastated the historic town of Lahaina on Maui, Hawaii officials announced on Friday a $500 million plan for longer-term housing for the thousands of residents displaced by the tragedy.

The state and county are hoping to relocate over 2,400 households — with over 5,000 individuals — that have been living for the past several months in Maui hotel rooms. Many of those residents are finding themselves once again without stable housing as tourism on the island opens back up.

Announcing a memorandum of understanding between the government and several nonprofit organizations at a news conference, Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen said, “The objective is to enhance the availability of resilient and affordable housing. We want to get people into safe, stable and secure housing, to provide support to affected homeowners and reinforce the housing infrastructure.”

“Today is about collaboration,” Bissen added of the partnership between the state, the county, FEMA, the Hawaii Community Foundation, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and the American Red Cross. The groups have collectively made $500 million available for interim housing support.

Bissen and other officials say that their goal is to create 3,000 units by July 2024 to house wildfire survivors and to extend this housing support for 24 months before more permanent solutions can be developed.

A major part of this plan involves already existing short-term vacation rental units on the island, which officials are hoping can be converted to long-term rentals for Lahaina survivors, with major kickbacks being offered to landlords.

“If we can make an appeal, please look into your hearts, take up the offers that are being made by all of our partners,” Hawaii Governor Josh Green said. “Look into your hearts and rent your short-term rental long term for a fair market value, take advantage of the tax breaks the county has generously offered.”

Though officials noted that they had received 50 applications for conversion — out of the over 25,000 of short-term rentals currently operating on the island — they hope that the financial incentive will encourage more property owners to convert in coming months.

In November 2023, Bissen introduced a proposal to the county council that would exempt short-term rentals, timeshares and other unoccupied residences from certain property taxes, while possibly pushing the cost onto property owners who don’t participate.

Also on Friday, Green extended his emergency proclamation for the Maui wildfires, prohibiting evictions of wildfire survivors and block price hikes on certain goods.

Green had previously threatened the “nuclear” option on short-term rentals in December 2023, warning that he may be forced to declare an emergency proclamation for a moratorium on short-term rentals if there weren’t enough units available for wildfire survivors.

The alliance instead lays out a timeline for their housing goals, with March and July 2024 being key deadlines. If they meet those goals, Green said Friday, there would be no need for a moratorium.

Speaking from a plot of land in Maui Lani in central Maui, officials also said that they will be using that location as housing within three to four months, with pre-fabricated units on their way to the islands.

Categories / Environment, Government, Regional

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