A philanthropic partnership led by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is offering a direct leasing program and increased stipends for hosts.

Efforts to find stable long-term housing for the thousands of people displaced by the August wildfires on Maui are gaining momentum more than four months out from the disaster.

The nonprofit Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement announced Thursday that it has launched its own direct leasing campaign and was boosting the monthly stipend for the Host Housing Support Program.

Standing outside a three-bedroom rental home in Kihei that was waiting to welcome a Lahaina family of five, CNHA CEO Kuhio Lewis also unveiled an ADU Loan Forgiveness Program to start in mid-January. As its name implies, the program will offer forgivable loans of $50,000 to homeowners with approved plans to build an accessory dwelling unit who are willing to host a displaced family for up to three years.

A Christmas tree with gifts awaited a Lahaina family of five who moved into a three-bedroom home in Kihei Thursday 12/21/2023 under a new leasing program offered by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement to house people displaced by the August wildfires. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat 2023)
A Christmas tree with gifts awaited a Lahaina family of five who moved into a three-bedroom home in Kihei Thursday under a new leasing program offered by the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement to house people displaced by the August wildfires. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)

Information on the programs will be available on HelpingMaui.org, a new, simplified, centralized website to help survivors find housing that is also a platform for property owners and managers to list available rentals.

The website will absorb the long list of available rentals compiled by the state Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.’s Hawaii Fire Relief Housing Program through which 605 families have found temporary housing, according to James Tokioka, director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, who attended Thursday’s press conference in Kihei.

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, who was also present Thursday, told Civil Beat that the county would soon be informing some 400 Lahaina families whose homes are still standing but lacked essential utilities that they can return with water, sewer and electrical service restored.

Bissen also hinted at a major announcement next week about “a global interim housing program” with various partner agencies once a memorandum of understanding, financial commitments and timelines are finalized.

Officials said that 2,430 families, or 6,283 individuals, displaced by the August fires are still in need of housing. Most have been staying in hotels, condominiums and other properties under an emergency noncongregate sheltering program managed by the American Red Cross that is set to expire in early February. 

CNHA’s direct leasing program is aimed at fire survivors who may not qualify for housing assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which just got its own direct leasing program off the ground a few weeks ago.

Both programs are similar in that they lease units directly from owners or property managers and then sublease to fire-impacted individuals and families, offering guarantees of rental income, payment for damage repairs and other protections, along with recently approved county property tax exemptions

Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu offered a Hawaiian blessing Thursday 12/21/2023 at a home in Kihei that is being leased to a Lahaina family under a new Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement program to house displaced wildfire survivors. Also in attendance was property owner Cheryl King, CNHA CEO Kuhio Lewis, state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director James Tokioka and other officials, including Maui Mayor Richard Bissen. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)
Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu offered a Hawaiian blessing Thursday at a home in Kihei that is being leased to a Lahaina family under a new Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement program to house displaced wildfire survivors. Also in attendance was property owner Cheryl King, CNHA CEO Kuhio Lewis, state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director James Tokioka and other officials, including Maui Mayor Richard Bissen. (Christie Wilson/Civil Beat/2023)

CNHA is taking things a step further by offering assistance in moving future bookings to hotels in order to open up more short-term rentals.

FEMA has been concentrating its efforts on Maui’s 13,000 vacation rentals and so far has signed up 358 units for direct leasing, with 50 households leased into units and more expected before the end of the year. The federal agency is offering rates comparable to what owners collected on their units last year.

Short- and long-term rentals, second homes and ohana units located in West Maui under the CNHA program can receive maximum monthly rent as high as $5,000 for a one-bedroom unit, $7,000 for a two-bedroom unit, and $9,000 for a three-bedroom unit. The rates for units in South Maui can go as high as $3,200, $4,900 and $6,500, respectively. 

Cheryl King, 48, owns the three-bedroom, two-bathroom home a short walk from the beach on Uluniu Road that is being rented to the Lahaina family for at least a year at $5,000 a month. King said she and her boyfriend bought the property 10 years ago and live nearby. After their previous tenants moved out in September, they remodeled the home and were planning to live in it. 

“We were going to finally move down here — 2023 was going to be our year — but everything went topsy-turvy in everyone’s lives and as we started fixing everything up and remodeling everything and making it the way we really wanted to make it, it just seemed like it would be a better idea to get someone who was really looking for a place, because we were fine where we were,” King said.

Meanwhile, 200 families are participating in the Host Housing Support Program, and another 500 families could be served, according to Hawaii Community Foundation President and CEO Micah Kane, who spoke briefly at the press conference. When launched as a six-month pilot program in October, monthly stipends were set at $375 per person with a $1,500 cap to help offset the host’s costs of taking in fire survivors.

Lewis said the stipends have been increased to $500 per person up to $2,000, now with six-month extensions available. Applicants do not need to be of Native Hawaiian descent.

CNHA has allocated $2 million from its Kakoo Maui Fund for the leasing program and $1 million for the ADU loan program. The Hawaii Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund and the American Red Cross are each contributing $1.25 million for a host support program, with the latter kicking in $2.4 million for a leasing program.

The CNHA housing programs also have received additional funding commitments from the state and county.

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

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