Maui wildfires affect us all
By Tasha Kama
Aug. 8, 2023, was a tragic loss of lives and homes in Lāhainā and loss of homes in Kula.
We will always feel these losses as individuals, families and a community whose connection with the ‘āina runs generations deep.
To us, our home is so much more than a place to lay our heads. Our home is a where ‘ohana gathers in good times and bad, and it is the place where we honor our ancestral relationship with the land.
So, while disaster losses are tallied in terms of dollar value and units lost, our collective losses mean so much more. Our community’s heart has been broken.
Understanding this special relationship with the ‘āina, the County Council has been actively listening to the community’s concerns about the desperate need for housing. Our community’s critical housing needs at all levels — first-time home buyers, affordable homes, workforce housing and market-priced units — existed well before the recent wildfire disaster.
Now that the wildfires have claimed an estimated 3 percent of our total housing, what was previously a housing crisis has turned into a housing emergency. To date, approximately 7,500 residents remain housed in temporary shelters in hotels and Airbnb units.
A proclamation issued by Gov. Josh Green on July 17 declared a housing emergency and suspended provisions of various laws in the hopes of expediting the construction of housing units. In my recent Housing and Land Use Committee meetings, we heard from 62 members of the community who expressed a wide range of concerns about the emergency proclamation on housing. Community concerns include potential environmental and cultural impacts and how the proclamation would be applied to rebuilding Lāhainā.
In response to these and other concerns expressed on the state level, Gov. Green on Sept. 15 issued an updated emergency housing proclamation — notably for affordable housing — that removed several of the original provisions but retained others that will still expedite the development process.
One of the benefits of the emergency housing proclamation is the formal creation of the Build Beyond Barriers Working Group, which is expected to assess projects that can be streamlined by taking advantage of the remaining suspended provisions of the Hawaiʻi Revised Statutes.
While the Build Beyond Barriers Working Group is expected to help move the needle on some important housing projects, it also limits the County Council’s ability to weigh in on potential project modifications or impacts. This tradeoff may feel an uncomfortable for council members, but I believe it is a needed compromise that may result in the accelerated construction of affordable- and workforce-housing units that the county itself cannot provide.
While some development constraints will always fall outside the council’s control, such as the interest rates set by the Federal Reserve, we have an obligation to continue addressing the policies that we can change. We must dig deep to entrust the kama’aina development community with the kuleana to do what is right, now that they are equipped with some of the tools needed to provide units quickly.
Our community input — your input — is critical to decide how we will move forward. Without quick action, our displaced families will remain unhoused.
We must work in partnership in every way to ensure adequate housing units so our children and their children can remain living in the place that we all love, Maui Nei.
* Tasha Kama is the council’s presiding officer pro tempore and chair of the Housing and Land Use Committee. She holds the council seat for the Kahului residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.