PUNA (HawaiiNewsNow) – Five months after eruptions in lower Puna started, Hawaii County officials say they’re nowhere near close to having enough housing for everyone who needs it.
More than 700 homes were destroyed by lava in the eruptions that started May 3. Many more were damaged.
Alexis Adal is one of the lucky ones.
After spending six weeks at the Keaau emergency shelter and another two weeks at the evacuee village at Pahoa’s Sacred Heart Church, she was finally able to find a house in Hawaiian Acres. She moved in at the end of July.
“I didn’t realize how stressed I was until after,” said Adal. “When I moved in my house, I slept for a week.”
She says both shelters went above and beyond to make sure people were comfortable.
But the process of trying to find a place to live was maddening.
“I’m not sure why people advertise homes on Craigslist and then don’t respond to you. That’s the biggest frustration I had,” said Adal. “I saw prices shooting up 200, 300 percent.”
Kimo Alameda, the executive director of the Hawaii County Office of Aging, said they’ve been working hard to place as many people as possible into housing, but it’s been a slow process.
“At best we feel like 25 percent have moved into some type of permanent housing through their FEMA benefit or through rental assistance from the non-profits,” he said.
Alameda says the county knows of 157 families who aren’t eligible for federal assistance and are still looking for permanent housing. He says about 10 percent left the island and moved to the mainland.
However, the vast majority of evacuees — including those who were granted FEMA aid — are still in temporary living situations, either with friends or family, in shelters or on the street.
“I know it’s a significant number. Best guess would be around 400 to 500 households,” said Alameda.
“A lot of those people are still looking for housing because the max that FEMA could allow was $34,000 and we know $34,000 isn’t going to build you a home.”
Officials say the county is working on its long-term recovery plan.
However, there is no word yet on any new housing projects.
Adal, the lava evacuee, says the past few months have been humbling and that she’s thankful for all of the support she’s received to get back on her feet.
“I felt very lucky because so many people lost everything. And I was just a renter,” said Adal.
“It was really life-changing for me. It really was. And it’s something I will never forget. And I’ll always be grateful.”