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Rep Asks for Housing Support for Displaced Puna Residents

May 30, 2018, 10:19 AM HST
* Updated May 30, 2:05 PM
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Fires and lava as seen from near Pohoiki Road, May 2018. PC: Crystal Richard

With the Hawaiʻi Island lava flow continuing to expand, destroying homes and forcing more residents to evacuate, Rep. Joy A. San Buenaventura (Puna) wrote a letter to Gov. David Ige, asking him to issue three executive orders to help prevent the emerging housing crisis that many people are now facing.

Area residents forced from their homes are becoming desperate, so Rep. San Buenaventura and a group of government, nonprofit organizations and volunteers have been meeting weekly to proactively get ahead of this problem and look for solutions.

“People are living in tents, vehicles and shelters—sometimes without access to the basic necessities,” said Rep. San Buenaventura. “We need to support these residents by doing whatever we can to provide housing now. I’m hoping the governor will agree and quickly approve the executive orders we are requesting.”

The group, called DART: Disaster Assistance and Recovery Team, is comprised of the County’s Office of Aging, HOPE Services, Neighborhood Place of Puna, Blue Zone Foundation, Child & Family Services, Office of Mental Health, former Civil Defense Director Daryl Oliveira, the inter-faith community, and many others.

Based upon their research, the group is asking that the Governor seriously consider issuing three executive orders for the following:

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1. A waiver of the Transient Accommodations Tax for a period from now until one month after the emergency declaration has ended for rentals of less than 180 days for those who live in the evacuated zones. As shown by the 2014 lava event, most residents want to move back and just need a place to stay until they can return. If the 2014 lava event is a gauge, and that event lasted less than three months, the affected residents are looking at less than 6-month rentals. Moreover, vacation rental holders would want their accommodations to be available for tourists when the emergency is over.

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2. Allowing the tenant to waive the landlord-tenant code (HRS Chapter 521) such as deposit, notice, termination, and covenants of habitability. The basis for this request is to open up vacant foreclosed houses or vacant houses undergoing foreclosures and alleviate concerns by banks, realtors and commissioners who will want the ability to notify a tenant of lease termination for less than 30 days and who do not want to be sued for breach of the covenant of habitability for homes that have not been inspected.

3. Requesting that you sign into law, SB 2401- Ohana Zones. Although Hope Services, Neighborhood Place of Puna and other homeless advocates have opposed SB2401, Hope Services, NPP, County of Hawai‘i and other Hawai‘i Island advocates have since figured out a collaborative work with the requirements of the bill and are now advocating quick passage of it. Expediting at least the Hawai‘i Island portion of this bill in funding will go a long way to ease the increasing homeless crisis that is facing us amid this disaster.

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