When a hurricane or wildfire strikes the continental United States, survivors spread out for dozens or even hundreds of miles, moving into hotels and apartments wherever they can be found. Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, moves hundreds of trailers to provide shelter in the disaster area.

Such efforts will be far more challenging on Maui after last week’s deadly wildfires. The island is only 735 square miles, and much of it is mountainous, which will make it difficult to find temporary homes for all the survivors. To make matters worse, fires have destroyed more than 2,200 structures on the island, adding further pressure on an already stressed housing market.

Furthermore, Hawaii is more than 2,500 miles from the continental US, which would make it very difficult for the federal government to provide supplemental housing. And unlike other states, residents can’t simply walk to the next closest hotel and apartment—they must buy a plane ticket and show ID to reach other islands or the continental US.

Lynette “Pinky” Iverson, who fled Lahaina when houses on her street were on fire, told Grist that a FEMA convoy took her earlier this week to the Royal Lahaina Resort Hotel, which is across the street from the burned area. was just below

I see the people who are following me, they have tears in their eyes,” she told Grist. “They are devastated, almost corpse-like. As far as housing, I don’t know what the next step is. Many people are choosing to leave the island.”

At a press conference on Maui earlier this week, FEMA’s top official acknowledged that the agency would struggle to provide temporary shelter.

“We’re working closely with the governor to better understand all of the options available, whether that means longer term, we’ll bring smaller homes or our transitional homes,” said Dean Creswell, the administrator who will lead the agency through 2021. Will bring housing units.” We will not be able to rely on all the traditional programs that we do in the continental United States.

FEMA’s first response to a disaster is to place survivors in hotels and short-term rentals, reimbursing property owners at a flat rate. the agency covers temporary housing cost Up to 18 months after the occurrence of the disaster.

Given the size of its tourism industry, Maui has a larger number of hotels and vacation rentals than most places in the US. Before the fire, the island had more than 20,000 hotel rooms, as well as thousands of Airbnbs and other options, although many of them were located in the historic Lahaina area most heavily damaged by the fire.

Hawaii Governor Josh Green said in a The video was posted to Twitter on Wednesday afternoon The state had made more than 1,000 hotel rooms and 1,000 Airbnb units available, and a few hundred of those were being set aside for disaster workers. The state had already filled one hotel with victims and was working to fill another.

However, in the coming weeks, the onus will be on the hotels to voluntarily give away their rooms, as neither FEMA nor the state government can control them.

Shortly after FEMA activated its reimbursement program, some people began accepting fire refugees voluntarily.

“We’re already taking people in, and we’re taking in a lot more people than usual,” said Kyle Raquel, front desk attendant at the 87-room Days Inn hotel in Wailea, a beach area that burned. Was not there during the fire. “We are calling on tourists who are due to fly out next week to cancel their reservations so that we can make some space for those who really need accommodation.”

A young man shows his tattooed arms
Richie Palale, who was born and raised in the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui, shows off his “Lahaina Grown” tattoo at an evacuation shelter in Wailuku, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023.
Audrey McAvoy/AP Photo

It remains to be seen how many hotels will follow suit and give up tourist revenue. A representative for the Four Seasons Hotel, a five-star resort in Wailea, told Grist that it is setting aside rooms for survivors and first responders. About two-thirds of Maui’s hotel rooms were full in June, according to the state.

Representatives of the Hawaii and Maui county emergency management agencies did not respond to interview requests. In response to Grist’s questions, a FEMA spokeswoman said the agency has so far registered 620 people for housing assistance, and added that it is conducting a task force to design “innovative shelter and housing solutions for survivors.” Force is calling. The spokeswoman said the agency can provide trailers or supplemental housing only if requested by the state.

“can we get [temporary housing units] There? Yes, but it’s too early to start talking about a housing mission directly,” said Robert Barker, a spokesman for FEMA’s West Coast regional office. “Direct housing is not our A, B or C card. This is usually our F card.”

FEMA has in the past distributed hundreds of trailers (the official term is “manufactured housing units”) to areas prone to fires and floods and even built temporary communities with roads and infrastructure. Such was the case after the Camp Fire destroyed Paradise, California in November, 2018. The following May, FEMA opened a temporary town in nearby Auroville, Providing semi-permanent accommodation to 40 people,

But temporary housing is difficult to transport, and it sometimes takes months to reach. followed by the same in Louisiana in 2021 hurricane idaWhen residents waited for three months for trailers.

Maui’s location would make it even more difficult. FEMA faced these difficulties in 2017 when it responded to Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands, after determining that it would cost about a quarter of a million dollars In sending a single trailer to the Virgin Islands, the agency scrapped plans to provide housing directly in the area. Hawaii is about twice as far from the continental US as the Virgin Islands.

In Testifying before Congress Regarding efforts to restore power after Hurricane Irma, an Energy Department official said in 2018 that “the complex nature of an island response created significant logistical challenges, as well as a response and recovery timeline that was far beyond the continental United States.” is longer than America’s disaster.” ,

Even after any trailers are on the ground, it is essential that FEMA ensure they are durable enough to last for months or years. In previous cases, some of them have grown mold after months of use, or explosion Caused by a faulty propane tank.

Still, direct housing relief will be even more important in Maui, which was facing a severe housing shortage before the fires. Home prices increased by nearly 35 percent between 2019 and 2022making it hawaiian Least Affordable County for home ownership. halfway house Spent more than 30 percent of your income on rent or mortgage.

West Maui, including Lahaina, had a particularly large population of renters and households with more than one family. by county risk mitigation plan, 39 percent of housing units in the area were in multi-family developments such as apartment buildings, and 16 percent lived in overcrowded quarters, one of the highest rates in the county. The fire destroyed a large portion including affordable housing that 142-unit subsidized apartment complex in Lahaina.

A man in military uniform stands outside a line of cones near a war memorial complex sign
Members of the Hawaii National Guard direct traffic outside the War Memorial complex, which is serving as one of the main shelters for survivors of Maui’s wildfires. gabriella on anguaria

“It’s going to be really tough,” said Cassandra Abdul, director of Na Hale o Maui, a Maui-based nonprofit that works to develop sustainable affordable housing. “We already have a serious housing shortage, and it is very expensive to rent. It takes a long time to build a house here, as everything has to be imported and the process of granting permissions can take years.”

lack of available housing This will ensure many victims remain in temporary shelters for months, said Mihir Parikh, senior program director at national affordable housing nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners.

“Emergency housing sometimes becomes permanent housing,” he said. “Given the lack of land availability in Hawaii,” he said, “FEMA needs to explore other options, such as modular homes, which can be added over time.” These prefabricated units are hinged in place, unlike trailers, and can provide permanent housing if needed. Parikh said county and state governments should loosen zoning requirements to allow alternative housing types such as cottages and in-law units.

Abdul says he is optimistic the island will eventually recover, but he says it will take years to build enough affordable housing to compensate for what has been lost. Na Hale o Maui lost 15 of its below-market units during the fire. Without permanent replacements, many people will leave the island when disaster aid ends, he said.

“I doubt there will be people who will walk away,” he said. “Whether it will be permanent or temporary, we don’t know.”

Gabriela Aun Anguera contributed reporting to this story.

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