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What’s in Store for the Unhoused Victims of the Lahaina, Maui Fire?

Victims of the Lahaina, Maui fire from four months ago are still homeless, either camping out or being sheltered in short-term rental spaces like resorts and hotels. The Lahaina fire in August ignited after a powerline snapped from extreme winds and set fire to the surrounding dry grass. Usually, in harsh weather conditions, power lines will have their electricity cut by their power companies, ‘Hawaiian Electric’ did not turn their powerlines off, however. Assisted by extreme winds, the flames continued to spread, which resulted in at least 100 deaths and 2,200+ homes burning down. Many victims now have lawsuits filed against Hawaiian Electric for damages. In many states, fire protocols are set and enforced by the state’s fire marshal, but Hawaii has never had one. They’ve instead had a “ State Fire Counsel.” Chief Kazuo Todd of Hawaii County Fire Department said, “There have been issues... . in the past where (even) some of the schools, which the state runs are being non-compliant in their fire safety systems. . . our ability to get this corrected is tempered by the fact we are county agents and not a state organization.” Hawaii’s Governor, Josh Green, is reportedly in favor of establishing an official fire marshal for the state to enforce and update fire codes, given the increasing severity and frequency of fires.

Since the fire, Lahaina residents have either relocated to live with friends and family in other Hawaiian areas or out of state or ended up homeless. The lack of Hawaiian affordable housing makes sustainable living even more difficult. Some are fortunate enough to be provided shelter in short-term rental spaces but have had to continuously move from building to building to ease the housing burden on business owners. This puts the community in a difficult position. Victims require shelter, but the local economy needs tourists to visit and take up space in the short-term rental properties. Funding from tourists will be crucial to rebuild the Lahaina community.  

As the Lahaina people become increasingly desperate, realty companies such as ‘Romvari Realty’ have offered to buy destroyed properties from them. An offer that was received harshly by a community that maintains the desire to stay on their land and harbors a general distrust towards outside corporate entities.

They are hopeful for the “Lahaina Community Land Trust,” a developing nonprofit organization that will assume managerial ownership of the Lahaina land. The trust would function with the intent to buy the properties from victims - relieving them of the mortgage payments on the destroyed properties and then providing victims with an opportunity to repurchase the property in the future. ‘The Maui News’ last reported on the development of the trust on November 15, where leadership talked about seeking guidance from other land trust organizations on how to develop the organization. From the report, they had not secured funding sources for the project.


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