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Residents ponder housing options after Kilauea eruption

November 19, 2018

KEAAU, Hawaii (AP) — Some people displaced by Kilauea volcano’s eruption this year are contemplating where they will live long-term.

Jane Whitefield told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald at a recent housing fair for such residents she’s interested in living in a tiny home.

She lost her Leilani Estates home in the eruption. She’s now staying in one of the micro shelters at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Pahoa.

She said all she needs is a one-bedroom home with room for her five cats, four of which are missing. She hopes the county will take her 2-acre lava-covered property through a land swap.

“I can put a tiny house on it,” she said, if she gets property elsewhere in Puna.

The eruption started May 3, and destroyed more than 700 homes in lower Puna. Lava stopped erupting in September.

Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said one issue that came up at the housing fair is that those who have homes that are intact but isolated don’t qualify for federally-backed mortgage programs if they want to build elsewhere.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency continues to help people pay rent.

Craig Trupp, FEMA individuals housing specialist, said only six households have needed direct lease assistance. Another 15 have received help flying to or from the mainland.

“There were a lot of people who were able to take care of themselves,” he said.

“We thought it was going to be more than that,” Trupp added. “By the time we called these people they said, ‘OK, I’m fine with where I’m at.’”

Ron Whitmore, the county’s Research and Development deputy director, said FEMA will take care of people for 18 months. The county is focused on making sure everyone has permanent housing solutions.

He said the county is trying to identify “transitional policies” to help bring back some normalcy to lower Puna.

The county hired the Pacific Disaster Center to do a risk assessment of the eruption area and help come up with mitigation plans.

Depending on the findings, one issue that could be considered is whether it makes sense to rebuild in certain locations and, if not, whether property owners should be bought out. Whitmore said those discussions could happen after the report is finished next year.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, http://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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