The $4 million pilot program will provide participants $375 per month per displaced person they house.

To help ease the deep anxiety and uncertainty felt by thousands of Lahaina fire survivors, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen announced a new program on Tuesday aimed at encouraging Hawaii residents to open their doors to house those currently staying in hotel rooms or Airbnbs.

Those who do so can receive $375 a month per survivor that they house, or up to $1,500 if they take in multiple people.

The $4 million pilot program will be in effect for six months but may be extended. It’s a partnership among Maui County, the American Red Cross, Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement and Hawaii Community Foundation.  

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen held a press conference Tuesday to announce a new program that will assist families who house people displaced by the Aug. 8 fires. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

“The idea here is to create or foster the aloha spirit and camaraderie that’s already existing in the community. I think the No. 1 thing it does is it keeps people with family and friends, people they are familiar with in most cases,” Bissen said at a morning press conference at his office.

Some 7,000 people are continuing to shelter in hotel rooms or Airbnbs. Of those, some 190 households do not currently meet criteria for staying in the hotel rooms but are being granted extra time to complete their paperwork, said Dave Gutierrez, an American Red Cross disaster official.

Dave Gutierrez is an official with the American Red Cross who is assisting fire victims on Maui. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

Bissen said many people are asking how can they help fire survivors besides volunteering or donating money or goods.

“One way to help is by opening their homes to people who may need to move out of the hotels,” he said.

Anyone who lives in Hawaii who has a home to share can apply to be a host family provided they meet certain eligibility criteria, including passing a housing inspection and complying with monthly assessments.

Kuhio Lewis, chief executive of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, said an online portal is ready to accept applications or interested people can stop by CHNA’s Kakoo Maui Resource Hub at the Maui Mall in Kahului to fill out applications.

Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Chief Executive Kuhio Lewis spoke at a news conference about a new host family housing program aimed at assisting fire victims currently staying in hotel rooms or Airbnbs. (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2023)

It’s unclear which agency is paying what amount to meet the $4 million budget but Lewis said the funding commitment is firm and will be met.

Given Maui’s tight and expensive housing market, the program’s goal is to help host families offset some costs of housing fire victims and to assist those needing a place to stay to find one. The money can be used for rent or mortgage payments, utilities, groceries, household improvements and other necessities, according to a news release.

“We know that having guests and being guests is not always easy. There are inconveniences and sacrifices that people need to make but we know that when friends and family rally around us, it can make the hurt a little better and it can make the healing more of a reality,” said Sheila Sarhangi, Hawaii Community Foundation spokeswoman.

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

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