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A Beacon of Hope and Transformation

The construction of the Ka La‘i Ola temporary housing development aims to bring a renewed sense of hope and healing to the West Maui community.

A Beacon of Hope

New life is taking root mauka of Lahaina’s fire damaged Wahikuli subdivision through Ka La‘i Ola, a 450-unit community that will house displaced wildfire survivors for up to 5 years. The project will house survivors who are ineligible for federal aid in studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Residents will also receive property management and other services, such as child care, health care, financial planning and trauma-informed support.

“Our vision for Ka La‘i Ola is simply a place for peaceful recovery,” said Kimo Carvalho, executive director of HomeAid Hawai‘i, at the project’s groundbreaking ceremony on April 29th. “And what that means is starting with the home. You have to have a foundation, safety, security and stability.”

HomeAid Hawaiʻi is the project’s lead developer, and has received a grant of $40 million from the Maui Strong Fund of the Hawaiʻi Community Foundation to support the creation of Ka Laʻi Ola. The $40 million was part of HCF’s $50 million commitment to the Maui Interim Housing Plan. It is the largest gift the Maui Strong Fund has awarded to date and represents a pivotal point in Maui’s transition from disaster response to long-term recovery.

“The collective generosity from Maui Strong Fund donors is making Ka La‘i Ola a reality,” says Micah Kāne, CEO and president of the Hawai‘i Community Foundation. “The housing development ensures that survivors of the wildfires will have a safe, stable place to live, and it delivers on the strong desire by the community for housing options in West Maui.”

Ka La‘i Ola was named by kumu hula Pueo Pata, who was inspired by ‘ōlelo no‘eau and a letter to the editor of the Ke Au Okoa newspaper in 1871. The term “la‘i” means “calm, stillness, quiet, peace, contentment, tranquility” and has been used for centuries in connection to the Lahaina region.

HomeAid Hawai‘i co-designed the project with community members through a series of charettes, or gatherings of people from different disciplines to collaborate on solutions to complex challenges.

Many of the invited organizations had been working with displaced residents since the fire. Over three days in February and April, the group discussed the land plans, building specifications, case management and resiliency services that would create a project that lives up to its name.

“Dignified housing is the foundation for people and community to heal, recover, and thrive following a natural disaster,” Carvalho says. “Public and private funding sources not only allow us the opportunity to develop housing solutions in response to community requests to stay in West Maui; they allow us to design intentional spaces that are inclusive, foster connection, and create healing spaces that will aid in their recovery.”

The state has also allocated $75 million to the project’s $115 million cost. The project will help reduce the $56 million it is currently spending every month to temporarily house wildfire survivors ineligible for federal aid in hotels and other accommodations.

The state Department of Human Services is leasing the project’s 57 acres in the Leiali‘i area from the Hawai‘i Housing Finance & Development Corporation. After five years, the state will commit the land and permanent infrastructure provided by the development to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. This will fast track DHHL development for Native Hawaiian beneficiaries by 17 years.

“Working with Gov. (Josh) Green has taught me a lot about how community enables us to help people in a way that simply we cannot as individuals,” Carvalho says. “It truly takes a village.”

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