Gov. Josh Green said he aims to move people from hotels into longer-term housing beginning Sept. 29.

Thousands of displaced fire survivors living in Maui hotels will start to move into other housing at the end of this month, but many expressed concern about where they’ll go given limited housing options on the island.

The state has announced plans to move residents into more Airbnbs, long-term rentals offered by homeowners and to build transitional housing in the Lahaina area, including tiny home communities.

Gov. Josh Green also said Friday that the state will continue to contract with three to five hotels and lease their entire properties so they can serve as an “additional housing safety net” throughout the recovery process.

Jaime Hidalgo, 52, a Lahaina resident who lost his apartment in the fire despite his best efforts to defend it with a garden hose, is still worried. Hidalgo was previously housed at the Hyatt and is now at Sands of Kahana north of Kaanapali.

“Where are we going to go?” Hidalgo said. “Don’t tell me the house is already built.”

Jaime Hidalgo, a Lahaina resident who lost his apartment in the fires, says he doesn’t have any housing options outside of staying in a hotel. (Madeleine List/Civil Beat/2023)

Currently, 6,595 displaced people are staying at 29 Maui hotels, and 1,100 people are living in Airbnbs, Green said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has agreed to extend until Sept. 29 payments to Maui hotels that are providing shelter to those displaced by the Aug. 8 fire, which killed at least 115 people.

Green also announced plans to reopen the West Maui area to tourism on Oct. 8 with the exception of the hardest-hit area of Lahaina.

FEMA Assistance

FEMA has spent more than $10.2 million on housing assistance so far, including hotel stays, said spokesman Patrick Boland. The agency has also spent more than $10.8 million on “other needs assistance,” which covers meals being provided in hotels.

People who still need help getting food after moving out of hotels can access Red Cross food assistance sites around the island, he said.

But many survivors are nervous about finding viable places to rent long term and said the stress of seeking aid from multiple state and federal agencies has been overwhelming.

Eva Maria Adam, a Lahaina resident and mother of two who was displaced by the fires, said her family has been staying with a friend since she lost her home because she has found it so difficult to navigate the complex systems of multiple aid organizations.

She was able to get around $8,000 in assistance from FEMA to help replace items she lost, but after losing everything she owned, it seems like a small amount. She’s been relying mostly on donations from the community through Venmo and GoFundMe. 

“It’s just so frustrating that you have to beg for money,” she said. 

University of Hawaii Maui College hosts the FEMA and State disaster recovery center for those affected by the recent wildfires, photographed Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023, in Wailuku. The historic town of Lahaina was destroyed by an Aug. 8 fire. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)
FEMA has agreed to extend until Sept. 29 payments to Maui hotels that are providing shelter to those displaced by the fire. Gov. Josh Green said the state aims to move thousands of people out of hotels and into longer-term housing after that. (Kevin Fujii/Civil Beat/2023)

Housing Options Available

Around 1,000 Airbnb stays are being offered for free through, a nonprofit affiliated with Airbnb that focuses on facilitating emergency housing, according to the company. Airbnb hosts are either not charging or are charging discounted rates that are then covered by donations, Airbnb said in an email.

Homeowners who usually rent their properties on a short-term basis are also offering to rent long term to displaced families through a state housing a relief program. An inventory list on the state’s website Friday showed more than 600 apartments and homes for rent ranging from a low of $500 or less to a high of $3,001 and above.

Terry Joaquin, a Wailuku resident, is offering a one-bedroom condo for $2,600 a month and a studio for $2,200 a month in Napili Ridge. In regular times, she can rent the units for $190 or $175 per night through Airbnb, but after the fires, she said she canceled her future bookings. She’s received a few calls from displaced people interested in the units who are currently staying in hotels or with friends and family.

“I just want to make it available to people so that they can get long-term leases,” she said.

Another property owner, Mark Galatolo, who’s offering a furnished, one-bedroom unit in Lahaina in the $3,001-plus category, said he’s received a few calls from people but is surprised he hasn’t drawn more interest.

“I thought it would be more active,” he said.

Green also said Friday that rental assistance would be available for families through FEMA for 18 months.

After applying through FEMA, families that are approved will receive rental assistance in the form of monthly checks or direct deposit, Boland said in an email.

So far, 2,200 households have been approved for rental assistance, and nearly 16,000 people have registered with the agency for general relief, which includes assistance for housing and other necessities, according to Boland.

Governor Josh Green releases a statement shown on Facebook
Gov. Josh Green on Friday outlined multiple longer-term housing options for people currently staying in Maui hotels. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

In addition, Green authorized $100 million through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program that funds monthly cash payments to low-income families with children. Green said the program could provide as much as $30,000 to a single family to help pay for housing, food, clothing and other needs. If one person in the family is a U.S. citizen, the household can qualify, he said.

Tiny Homes Planned

State officials planned to meet with FEMA officers on Saturday to discuss the construction of temporary transitional housing in the West Maui area, Green said. He expects the state to receive “well over a billion” dollars from the federal agency to fund the developments, which may serve as long-term housing for many of those who lost their homes.

He assured residents of Lahaina that these units would not be built inside the town but elsewhere in the West Maui area. He also said the plans to build temporary housing for fire survivors was not part of his emergency proclamation on housing.

That’s in addition to plans to build tiny home communities known as kauhales, which Green said will house around 165 people who were homeless in the Lahaina area before the disaster.

The Red Cross, which is working alongside other agencies to help find housing for displaced people, said those who aren’t able to find options after Sept. 29 will be able to stay in one of the state’s contracted hotels until something becomes available.

Hotels have also been lodging emergency workers and first responders and some are housing their own employees.

Green said residents who are not eligible for FEMA benefits can still get housing and other assistance through the Red Cross. Spokesman Jim McIntyre said anyone who needs temporary housing and is not comfortable registering with FEMA should call 1-800-RED CROSS.

“Red Cross disaster services are available for everyone in need regardless of race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or citizenship status, and all disaster assistance is free,” McIntyre wrote in an email. 

Boland said he understood that looking for housing would be difficult given the limited housing stock on Maui. He encouraged survivors to stay in touch with FEMA representatives and keep track of when they need to apply for extensions to their benefits. 

“It’s just going to continue to be difficult” he said, “but FEMA will continue to work with people and make sure it’s not a financial matter that prevents them from having lodging and shelter.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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