The Lingering Shadows 8 Months and the Struggle for Safe Housing

The Lingering Shadows: 8 Months and the Struggle for Safe Housing

As Lahaina, Maui, basks in the warm glow of its picturesque shores and vibrant culture, beneath the surface lies a tale of struggle and hardship that remains for many of its residents. Eight months have passed since the world turned its gaze to the plight of Lahaina’s people, yet the promises of aid and assistance—especially those from our own governor—seem to have fallen short for those still grappling with the fundamental need for safe, affordable housing. While the headlines have shifted and the narrative focuses on cleanup progress, the reality for many remains unchanged—3,000 people remain in hotels while the needed inventory sits empty. The hammer that Governor Green is wielding over his head needs to drop.

For many Lahaina residents, the dream of a safe and stable home remains just that—a dream. Despite assurances and pledges from local authorities and government agencies, the reality on the ground tells a different story. Affordable housing options are scarce, and those available in West Maui are relatively non-existent. High rental prices, coupled with the promise of FEMA’s ‘premium rates‘ and stringent eligibility criteria, as well as extended background checks, place safe housing beyond the reach of many families. Many of those qualified for FEMA’s direct housing program are still awaiting placement in a suitable home for their families.

While temporary measures may have provided momentary relief, they have fallen short of addressing the systemic issues that perpetuate housing insecurity in Lahaina. Band-aid solutions cannot heal deep wounds, and without sustained efforts to tackle the root causes of homelessness and housing instability—focused primarily on the short-term rental (STR) market and off-island investments—the cycle of poverty will persist, casting a shadow over the island’s future. Lahaina is not Lahaina without the people OF Lahaina.

It’s crucial to acknowledge the efforts made by community organizations like Lahaina Strong, Rebuild Maui, Maui Housing Hui, and grassroots initiatives like Fishing for Housing in supporting Lahaina‘s vulnerable populations. Their tireless work embodies the spirit of resilience and compassion that defines the essence of Lahaina. However, the burden of addressing housing insecurity cannot rest solely on the shoulders of volunteers and charitable organizations. A concerted effort involving all stakeholders is needed to effect meaningful change and ensure that no one is left behind.

As we reflect on the 146 days of our community living on the beach in front of the hotels, it’s imperative to recommit ourselves to the cause of housing justice. Several bills have been introduced to the legislature looking to regulate the purchase, sale, and use of short-term rentals in our neighborhoods. Our homes should be for our community, and our hotels should be for our visitors, not the other way around.

Furthermore, we must challenge the prevailing narrative that portrays housing insecurity as individual failings rather than systemic injustices. Our families didn’t choose this, our community didn’t ask for this, and no one should be penalized for demanding the bare minimum of needs due to circumstances beyond their control. By shifting our perspective from blame to empathy, we can foster a more compassionate society where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.

In the face of adversity, the community of Lahaina has shown remarkable strength and solidarity. Yet, the journey towards a brighter future is far from over. Outside investors, greed, corruption, and false promises continue to stall the progress we could have. As we mark this milestone, let us renew our commitment to building a community where safe and affordable housing is not a luxury but a basic human right. Only then can Lahaina truly be the Lahaina those who’ve experienced it have come to love.

Lareesa Butters is a longtime resident of Lahaina and friend of the show, Breaking Battlegrounds.

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