Governor Josh Green, M.D., with Maui County Mayor Richard Bissen, state officials, FEMA and the American Red Cross joined in providing an update on the economic recovery and housing response on Maui following the devastating Aug. 8 wildfires.
“It’s been 10 weeks since the disaster occurred here on Maui. We lost 99 of our loved ones. We still have some work to do to close six remaining cases; and we pray every day that there are no more loved ones that are lost,” said Gov. Josh Green at a news conference held on Maui Wednesday afternoon.
Gov. Green noted that more than 3,000 families were displaced by the wildfires. “As of [Monday] approximately 6,800 individuals were still in hotel rooms across 35 hotels. Hundreds of families are now in Airbnb’s, in the Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation program… so we’re making a lot of progress, but it is going to be a very long process,” said Gov. Green, as he vowed to get people into stable housing so they will be ready for the long-term recovery.
According to the governor, an estimated 8,773 individuals were unemployed as of last week, with anticipated declines ahead.
The news comes 10 days after the reopening of West Maui to visitors on Oct. 8. “It was, as we expected, a very gentle opening. Very few additional people have come. We’re mindful that that will have an impact on us going forward, which is why we have to be steady. Steady getting people into housing. Steady making sure people can return to their lives,” said Gov. Green.
The update also comes as Lahaina students return to school. “We were very grateful to see a lot of people celebrate going back to school; but even so, understanding that [some] people aren’t ready yet, and that’s also important,” he said.
“We are going to be understanding if you aren’t ready to work yet… if they’re not ready to move yet, we will find a way to get them into a stable place in their life. And when they’re ready to go back to education, or the other parts of their lives, we’ll accommodate that,” said Gov. Green.
Grant resource announcement expected
In the coming days, the governor said there would be improvements to resources. “On the 20th of this month, a large operation to get grants through the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program will open up with Maui Economic Opportunity,” the governor said, noting $50 million has already been set aside, with an additional $50 million coming as soon as needed.
He said the program could get people grants of up to $30,000 to help buy a car, help with first and last month’s rent, and other purposes. The grants are in addition to the resources that they get from FEMA, the American Red Cross, and other humanitarian efforts.
Gov. Green said his priorities and responsibilities would be working with the federal government, which includes FEMA and the American Red Cross and bringing grants to Hawaiʻi. “Meanwhile, I’ll also be focused on healthcare and economic development, and our environmental concerns which our Department of Health is able to deal with,” he said.
Mayor provides housing update
Mayor Richard Bissen will be the point person for housing, to help people rebuild and restructure where they live. “We have some milestones and landmarks that we do want to reach. We want to focus on getting people not just into stable housing, but into interim housing when they are ready to leave the hotels,” said Mayor Bissen.
According to the mayor, this will including building upon the Airbnb rentals and focusing on the Host Family Program which uses existing inventory. Under the statewide program, families who are already housing family, friends, or co-workers displaced by the Maui wildfires can get up to $1500 a month ($375 per person, up to four people) if they’ve taken people in since Aug. 8. Mayor Bissen said plans are to make the program retroactive.
Mayor Bissen also mentioned FEMA’s Rental Assistance Program and the GEM program for rent abatement. “The topic of modular homes has come up. We are discussing that and looking into how that can be a short-term, but eventually a long-term solution, meaning if we’re going to lay infrastructure down on our island, we’ll make sure that we put it somewhere that we can make use of it after the temporary structures are taken down,” he said.
DBEDT shares economic outlook
Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director James Kunane Tokioka discussed Maui’s economy in the 10 days following the Oct. 8 reopening date for tourism in West Maui.
“A lot of thought went into that by the governor and the mayor,” he said. “I meet with the hotel operators every single week, sometimes twice a week. I would constantly ask them what their reservations look like, because it’s important for us to figure our where we need to be and how we need to get there.”
When the governor made the announcement to reopen West Maui to tourism, Tokioka said he was calling the hotels every other day to check on their occupancy and reservation patterns.
“It was down. In fact, some of the hotels lost reservations after the governor’s announcement. We knew there wasn’t going to be a big influx of visitors coming. We also knew that some of the timeshare properties, the guests would come because they owned the week. But we did also know that a lot of people have moved their week to another time during the year,” he said.
“The only month that they have some concerns is December,” according to Tokioka. “We put a lot of thought into how we’re going to move forward with tourism… We need to make sure we can help the hotels so they can start booking the regular visitors when they come back.”