HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Maui fire’s claimed the lives of so many, but for those who prevailed against all odds, what do they have to return to?

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Maui’s housing issue has been at the forefront of so many initiatives due to the stress several have felt because of the uncertainty of interim housing for displaced fire survivors.

Last Friday Lahaina Strong Hui launched its “Fish-in for Housing” initiative at Kaanapali where they stated they need the housing issue addressed. 

On Thursday, Nov. 16, Mayor Bissen publicly announced that his administration is actively working towards the conversion of short-term rentals to long-term rentals for the survivors.

Specifically, he said they are working to encourage “voluntary compliance” from the industry, but will consider using his position of power if necessary to provide the needed stability to families with our existing housing stock.

“Government can take from one and give to another, we can do that, we’ve been working on that,” said Mayor Bissen. “What the County is seeking is voluntary compliance from the industry to donate the rooms or the homes, the stuff that we need.”

He continued, “That’s the first thing, is to ask, ‘Can you turn your units into that?’ Now if they say, ‘no,’ then we have the option that has been talked about. It’s not that we don’t understand the option or we’re not aware of the option, the question is, ‘when do you…make that call?’”

The announcement came almost a week after the 28 grassroots community groups of the Lahaina Strong Hui publicly issued this demand to provide immediate dignified interim housing to fire survivors using the existing housing stock.

This also happened the day after Mayor Bissen and Paele Kiakona — Lahaina Strong core organizer — gave keynote speeches at the CNHA Convention;

Kiakona publicly pleaded with the community to assist in the demand to the Mayor.

“Mayor Bissen’s words are a major victory that show both that he is willing to listen to community, and the power of our community coming together as one to make our demands for dignity heard” said Lahaina Strong Advocacy & Communications Coordinator Paele Kiakona in response to the announcement. “Now, with the holidays approaching, we need Mayor Bissen to act on those words and translate them into action by delivering a pathway to housing security and peace of mind for our people.”

CNHA Director of Data and Technology Matt Jachowski said the stock of short-term rentals and empty homes is the solution to Maui’s housing crisis. 

“On Maui there’s only one answer—our long term rental supply is tapped out. With over 3,500 displaced families in need of housing stability, our only option is to convert just 15% of Maui’s more than 24,000 short-term rentals and second homes into long-term rentals, at least for the next few years until more housing is built,” said Jachowski.

According to Lahaina Strong, the urgency of other demands is underscored by the fact that there is an impending sheltering crisis, as some hotel contracts with the Red Cross are set to expire on Nov. 30 and Jan. 31.

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They added that with little communicated by the County on what the status of these contracts is and what solutions exist for more stable and dignified housing, is leaving thousands of families currently housed in the hotels just across the way from the beach in a state of uncertainty.