With most of the town’s residents uprooted by the wildfire, a brutal housing market has made it hard for those ready to move out of hotel rooms.

Lahaina residents who lost their homes in the Aug. 8 wildfire turned up at Kaanapali Beach Friday to protest a lack of affordable, long-term housing solutions for families who have been living in FEMA-funded hotel rooms the past three months.

By noon, roughly 50 people, most of them wearing red Lahaina Strong T-shirts, had gathered on the sand near Whalers Village around a large handmade sign that read: “Fishing for Housing.” A series of fishing poles were set up nearby, along with shade tents, where some of the protesters said they planned to post up indefinitely. 

The event was organized by Lahaina Strong, a community-led initiative focused on helping displaced families recover from the Lahaina fire.

While several people who’ve been staying in hotel rooms funded by federal disaster relief money say they are grateful for shelter, they said they are growing frustrated over their inability to cook their own food or host family gatherings in their rooms. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

Courtney Lazo, who has been living in a FEMA-funded hotel room since her family’s generational home burned down, spoke on a microphone, emphasizing that families like hers yearn for a place to call home until authorities allow people to rebuild their homes. The fire destroyed Lahaina’s water, electric and sewer lines, and authorities caution it could take years to install new infrastructure.

“Although we are extremely grateful that these hotels have opened up their doors to all the displaced residents … we need something stable,” Lazo said. “Our community needs stability. Dignified housing.”

Lahaina community activist Leonard “Junya” Nakoa addressed several dozen people gathered at Kaanapali Beach at a rally for better housing solutions for survivors of the Lahaina wildfire. (Brittany Lyte/Civil Beat/2023)

Lahaina resident Jordan Ruidas spoke about how families are frustrated with having to move in and out of hotel properties on short notice. She talked about how most hotel rooms do not have any kitchen appliances, and with the holidays approaching people are increasingly desperate to cook their own food. 

She called on Maui Mayor Richard Bissen and other county leaders to convert short-term vacation rentals for tourists into long-term housing options for displaced locals.

“Families want to cook, have visitors and create a sense of normalcy, which is often constrained in these hotel environments,” Ruidas said. “Our community members deserve homes, not just temporary shelters.”

Paela Kiakona, another Lahaina Strong organizer, said he planned to occupy the stretch of beach until the government comes up with new and stable, secure housing options for uprooted fire survivors. 

Lahaina community activist Leonard “Junya” Nakoa also vowed to stay put.

“We’re not going nowhere,” Nakoa said. “We stay here ‘til they fix the problem.”

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

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