Reflecting with gratitude, enduring with fortitude
By Yuki Lei K. Sugimura
2023 has been a year like never before. Of course, the Aug. 8 wildfires have had a profound impact on all of us, and our focus shifted to prioritize those directly and indirectly affected by this life-changing disaster.
The unprecedented event brought people from all walks of life together to aid a community in need. I would like to express my immense gratitude for the strength and contributions of our community members, Hawaiʻi residents and all those who came together to organize post-disaster mitigation efforts.
Although we have suffered loss, the collaborative efforts we have seen provide hope for the future. Still, the work is far from over as our community continues to rally together for one another.
As we move forward with recovery efforts, our priority remains keeping our local residents home, on Maui. Housing is paramount, and the county council passed several pieces of legislation to provide property tax relief, as well as incentivize property owners to make housing available.
The council passed Bill 95, CD1, FD1 (2023) on second and final reading on Dec. 15—allowing real property tax exemptions for properties damaged by the fires. Bill 95 also creates an incentive for hotels and short-term rentals to open up their properties to displaced residents.
Bill 131, relating to the August 2023 wildfires long-term rental exemption, will provide property tax exemptions for property owners that have converted to long-term rentals for those directly displaced by the August wildfires.
Owners can also participate in leasing programs through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, who will be responsible for placing and monitoring displaced survivors. Property owners will receive guaranteed rent payments, property tax relief and host damage protection, in addition to providing critically needed housing to our friends and family.
The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is also providing assistance through its Host Housing Support Program for households who have taken in displaced family members or other fire survivors. Eligible host households may receive up to $500 per housed individual, for a maximum monthly stipend of up to $2,000 for up to six months.
In January, the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement is also launching accessory dwelling unit loan forgiveness. $50,000 forgivable loans will be available to homeowners with approved plans to build an accessory dwelling unit that are willing to host a displaced, fire-impacted family for up to three years.
For more information regarding the Federal Emergency Management Agency Direct Lease Program, please visit fema.gov. More information on the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement’s programs can be found at helpingmaui.org.
The key with all these programs will be participation from property owners. We have units on-island that can keep our people on Maui, and I urge all property owners who may qualify for any of these programs to step forward.
While we close the year with reflections of gratitude, we must also remember that the trauma experienced by so many is still felt every day. Housing uncertainty only exacerbates that trauma.
If you are a property owner, please consider signing up for any of these housing programs. Our community will be forever grateful.
*Yuki Lei K. Sugimura is the chair of the Budget, Finance and Economic Development Committee. She is the council vice-chair and holds the council seat for the Upcountry Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative and community matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.