Hawaii governor threatens to use ‘hammer’ to convert 3,000 vacation rentals to housing for newly homeless Maui wildfire survivors

Hawaii Gov. Josh Green on Friday said he wants 3,000 condos and homes that are normally rented to Maui tourists converted to long-term housing for displaced wildfire survivors who are now living in hotels.

Green said he’s prepared to use the “hammer” of post-fire emergency orders to make sure owners of short-term vacation rentals extend them to long-term units if enough spaces aren’t converted voluntarily by mid-January.

The governor said that as of Thursday, there were 6,297 residents still living in hotels more than four months after the Aug. 8 wildfire wiped out historic Lahaina. The vast majority don’t have anywhere else to go given the extreme housing shortage on Maui.

The lack of stable housing has been a source of stress for Lahaina residents, some of whom have had to switch hotel rooms multiple times since the fire. One group is camping out on Kaanapali Beach in front of resort hotels and vows to stay there until short-term rentals are converted for the use of residents.

Green said a combination of county tax incentives and generous rent subsidies offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency should help.

FEMA on Monday sent letters to 13,000 short-term rental operators across Maui informing them the agency would offer to pay them the same rent they earned during the previous year for their units, Green said.

In addition, the Maui County Council is currently considering legislation for property tax breaks promoted by the mayor.

“So there is no reason at all for people not to take this opportunity provided they want to be a helpful part of the solution,” Green said.

Green said he aims for these measures to provide interim housing for two years while more housing is built on Maui.

There are currently between 12,000 to 14,000 units legally rented on a short-term basis on Maui, according to Green. Including illegal ones, he estimated there could be nearly 25,000.

“So we really only need to get about 10%, maybe 12%, of all the available short term units on Maui,” he said.

Ideally, officials could rent out an entire building or an entire timeshare property, he said.

FEMA will pay for units rented to about 2,000 families. The state of Hawaii and private philanthropists will cover rent for the remaining 1,000 families who are undocumented or are citizens from so-called Compact of Free Association states and who aren’t eligible for FEMA aid, Green said.

He didn’t have an estimate for how much this would cost. He said it would depend on how many rentals become available.

The governor plans to release details of his new budget proposals at a news conference on Monday.

Green said it is currently costing $350-500 a day to house one family in a hotel room, once food and services are included.

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