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Housing recovery efforts advance

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald FEMA spokeswoman Renee Bafalis, left, and Toney Raines, FEMA’s disaster housing assessment team leader, speak during an interview Thursday.

Hawaii County officials have begun drafting a resolution that would create a redevelopment agency to oversee Puna’s recovery.

Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said the proposal would be presented for County Council consideration after state lawmakers and council members have weighed in.

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“As soon as everyone gets on board with this overall concept — that’s the next big thing — we can quickly set it up,” he said. “And they (the redevelopment agency) will be the ones … to definitively define the path and to dive deep in implementation.”

Kim has talked about crafting such an agency to assist with the economic and housing recovery of Puna, where more than 700 homes have been destroyed by the ongoing Kilauea eruption, almost since the disaster started three months ago.

The idea is similar to the Kaikoo redevelopment agency formed to help Hilo recover from the 1960 tsunami.

The agency would have its own board and would be tasked with crafting and implementing recovery plans. Takemoto said it would have the power of condemnation and be exempt from certain county codes.

“After we get the buy in, we will follow up with extensive community engagement for the actual details of the plan,” he said. “This is just to enable the resources,” Takemoto added, regarding the current process. “It’s not to set the plan.”

He said solutions that could be considered include use of state land for housing, which state Sen. Russell Ruderman has advocated.

Funding for the redevelopment agency would be part of an aid package county officials plan to request from the state and federal governments.

Meanwhile, evacuees can still apply for financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Small Business Administration.

FEMA spokeswoman Renee Bafalis said Aug. 13 is the deadline to register, and she encourages people to sign up even if they think they don’t qualify. So far, 2,536 households have registered.

FEMA has approved $5.3 million through its individual assistance program, while the SBA has authorized $21 million for household and business loans, she said.

The Disaster Recovery Center is now located at the Pahoa Community Center.

FEMA also has a 10-person team on the ground assessing housing needs for evacuees.

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Toney Raines, FEMA’s disaster housing assessment team leader, said the group’s report, which will include recommendations on addressing housing shortfalls, will be completed today.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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