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Lawmaker wants emergency orders to help house lava evacuees

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State Rep. Joy San Buenaventura said she believes Gov. David Ige can make it easier for Lower Puna residents displaced by the Kilauea eruption to find emergency housing by issuing two executive orders and allowing “ohana zones.”

“We’re trying to tackle a huge transitional housing crisis that’s facing Puna now,” San Buenaventura (D, Pahoa-Kalapana) said Wednesday.

She said Ige can remove housing barriers by issuing an executive order that would temporarily waive the transient accommodations tax for property in the evacuated zones. The TAT waiver also would apply to homeowners who may be collecting payment, such as utility costs, for taking in people who have been evacuated, San Buenaventura said.

“If you start charging your neighbor or an evacuee something to help you pay your utilities or a small rental, the law says that that becomes a landlord-tenant situation,” she said. “The law is clear. So we want to be able to help these people who want to help these evacuees.”

San Buenaventura also wants Ige to issue an executive order that she said would make it easier for vacant, foreclosed homes to be temporarily used by evacuees.

By temporarily waiving portions of the landlord-tenant code, San Buenaventura said banks, Realtors and others would not have to worry about being sued for “breaching the covenant of habitability for homes that have not been inspected.”

“I want to remove the disincentive on banks and Realtors to allow them to open up these vacant homes to potential evacuees,” she said.

Perhaps San Buenaventura’s most problematic request is opening up the concept of ohana zones, or setting aside areas to house the homeless and displaced. The concept is opposed by housing officials at the city, state and national levels.

If Ige does not want to sign a bill before him that would allow for ohana zones on all islands, then San Buenaventura hopes that Ige issues a third executive order that would allow one to be created temporarily in Puna to help both lava evacuees and homeless people on Hawaii island.

The state Legislature last session dedicated more than $30 million to establish ohana zones for the homeless, but left it up to Ige’s administration to figure out where they should be located and how they should be run.

San Buenaventura’s proposal is equally vague.

Asked where a ohana zone should be located in her district, San Buenaventura said, “I’m going to leave it up to the homeless advocates.”

San Buenaventura acknowledged that many details need to worked out before a successful ohana zone can be established, even temporarily.

But for Hawaii island, she said, “We have a number of state lands. We have huge acreage. We’re not lacking in land.”

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