Six months have passed since the deadly Maui wildfires; Gov. Green provides update
February 8, 2024, 1:56 PM HST
Today, Gov. Josh Green, M.D. expressed confidence that positive progress is being made in the transition of wildfire survivors from hotels to long-term housing, making a moratorium on short-term rentals “not likely.”
He floated the moratorium idea during a December press event saying he hoped 3,000 short-term rental owners would convert to long-term housing for fire survivors. The idea was to gain compliance or implement a ban on short-term rentals. A month later, he joined other government leaders and nonprofit organizations in unveiling a $500M Maui Interim Housing Plan.
“Because of the incredible success of the mayorʻs program, and the effort that FEMA and DHS have [made], it’s not likely we’ll need the moratorium and we will meet our needs by March 1. The number of housing units will meet the need[s] that the families have at this pace,” said Gov. Green during a joint press conference held this morning at the University of Hawai’i Maui College in Kahului.
The comments come six months to the day since the August 2023 wildfires and the devastating impacts on Lāhainā and the Maui community.
“Going forward, weʻre going to continue to review the landscape of long-term rentals and short-term rentals in our state. Itʻs now become clear that this is a statewide issue, highlighted by the crisis on Maui. We’ve asked the legislature, which is in session right now, to do all that it can to both provide incentives and allow me to bring significant enforcement to bear to get people to move from short-term rentals to long-term rentals.”
According to the governor, there are 90,000 short-term rentals in our state—75,000 of those are illegal, he said. On Maui alone, there are 31,000 short-term rentals.
Gov. Green was joined by Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen join SBA Administrator Isabel Casillas Guzman, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, and other government agencies. The leaders highlighted progress made over the past six months, current efforts, and the path forward for Maui’s recovery.
Six months after wildfires tore through historic Lāhainā Town, cranes, excavators and bulldozers are clearing the lots of debris.
“One by one, they’re removing what’s left of houses that burned and the melted husks of cars and pickup trucks left abandoned. Environmental crews are keeping tabs on air, water, and soil samples. FEMA continues to work closely with the state of Hawai‘i, including state Coordinating Officer James Barros, as well as Maui County, and federal and nonprofit partners, to put Lahaina on a path to recovery,” according to a news release update.
Gov. Green provided a recap on mid- to long-term housing and the various programs the state, county and partners are offering.
“That includes those who were homeless before the fires, to our workforce members who rent, including first responders who lost their homes even as they evacuated and rescued their neighbors, to the longtime homeowners who lost everything, and all who lost loved ones. Our efforts now, every day, are to transition survivors’ households into long-term housing, to give them stability and a sense of normalcy,” said Gov. Green in a news release. “Our Maui Recovery Fund, part of our One ‘Ohana Initiative,” will go even further to help our neighbors on a path to recovery,” he said.
An estimated 9,806 people have been displaced because of the wildfires, 3,971 properties were destroyed, and 100 lives were lost in the fires.
“Thanks to our partners we were able to successfully house 7,796 individuals in the NCS program. Currently, there are still 4,961 people or 2089 households, in 17 hotels, in need of housing. Our goal is to swiftly move individuals into long-term housing,” said Gov. Green. “To date, we have secured 2,367 long-term rentals to house our people. There is still a need for an additional 500 units to fully house survivors of the wildfires, but we are well on track to secure housing for our people.”
“On Aug. 8, our island and community were forever changed by the devastation of the Maui wildfires,” said Maui Mayor Richard Bissen. “As I reflect back over the last six months, I am incredibly appreciative of the continuous outpouring of aloha that we have received from across our pae ʻāina and from around the world. From day one, Maui has truly felt the embrace of so many. The care and resilience of our community, paired with the support of our federal, state, and local partners through this disaster have been unwavering,” said Mayor Bissen. “As we look forward, we remain acutely focused on prioritizing the mental health and well-being of our survivors, and our shared commitment to provide a place for them to call home.”
“In the six months since the devastating Maui wildfires, the US Small Business Administration has helped deliver the Biden-Harris Administration’s whole-of-government approach to Maui’s recovery by scaling up our local operations, expanding our partnerships on the ground, and offering financial relief and technical assistance to small businesses and the communities they serve,” said SBA Administrator Guzman. “The SBA has directed more than $290 million in loans to small business owners, nonprofits, homeowners, and renters seeking to rebuild their lives. We know there is still a long road ahead to economic recovery, and the SBA stands ready to work alongside federal, state, local, and private partners to ensure all of the communities impacted can reimagine and rebuild leveraging the full resources of the SBA.”
“The people of Maui have been through one of the worst disasters in our nation’s history. Their resilience, resolve, and perseverance have been remarkable, and their careful consideration of community throughout the recovery process should act as a model for future operations,” said FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. “FEMA, and the entire Biden-Harris Administration, will continue to work hand-in-hand with the state and local officials of Hawai‘i for as long as it takes to ensure the Lahaina community’s recovery from this disaster.”
During a long-term recovery meeting, state, local and federal officials discussed the long-term recovery needs, including long-term housing plans. Chief Federal Response Coordinator and FEMA Region IX Administrator Bob Fenton said his goal is to move 1,500 wildfire survivors out of Maui hotels and into more suitable temporary housing. To date, FEMA has secured nearly 1,500 leased properties for survivors, and more than 160 households have moved into temporary housing through FEMA’s Direct Lease program.
“In the long days, weeks, and months that follow a disaster, housing is one of the most pressing needs,” said HUD Principal Secretary for Community Planning and Development Marion McFadden. “Whether it’s helping HUD-assisted households, ensuring homeowners have the flexibility they need to rebuild, or providing emergency shelter for those experiencing homelessness through our RUSH grant funding, HUD is committed to working alongside our federal and local partners to support Maui’s recovery.”
“EPA has been honored to take on this kuleana with the trust and support of the community,” said EPA Region 9 Deputy Administrator Cheree Peterson. “We will ensure our work is done with the utmost respect and reverence for your home, history, and culture. Mahalo for your support.”
The EPA removed damaged household appliances, lithium batteries, and other hazardous materials from the 5-square-mile area of the Lahaina burn zone. The US Coast Guard raised 96 boats from the harbor, including a commercial submarine.
Crews from USACE are rapidly cleaning residential properties in Lahaina and plan to expand to commercial and public properties by mid-March. After coordinating with owners, cultural experts, and archeologists, workers load the debris from residential properties into plastic-lined trucks for safe transport and temporary storage at the eight-acre temporary debris storage site four miles away in Olowalu.
USACE is also rapidly completing work on a new $53.7 million school project to serve as the temporary replacement for the King Kamehameha III Elementary School, which was destroyed in the fire. The school, on the north side of Lahaina is nearing completion, only three months after work began. It is to be handed over to educators in late February and classes for 600 students are expected to start April 1.
Administrators Criswell and Guzman visited the Lahaina Disaster Recovery Center, where FEMA and SBA officials work beside state and Maui County disaster officials and voluntary groups to help the town’s survivors. This is Criswell’s second visit to the recovery center. Last August, she attended a town meeting with President Biden when he visited the island with the first lady.
Administrators Criswell and Guzman also met with nonprofit organizations to discuss their role and their needs in helping the community to thrive again.
*This is a developing story and will be updated with additional information.