Monday, Nov. 27, 2023|
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Dozens of people have applied for Hawaii County to buy their lava-inundated properties since the beginning of the month.
As of the end of last week, 90 people had applied for the second phase of the county’s Voluntary Housing Buyout Program, said Disaster Recovery Officer Douglas Le at a Wednesday meeting of the County Council’s Government Operations, Relations and Economic Development Committee.
The second phase, which runs until the end of January, allows owners of secondary residences damaged, isolated or destroyed by the 2018 Kilauea eruption to apply for the county to buy their properties.
The three-phase program is funded by $107 million in Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The 90 who have applied for the second phase are in addition to the 299 applications already submitted during the first phase of the program, which ran from May through July and allowed only owners of primary residences to apply.
Since then, however, Le said 15 applications have been deemed ineligible, and an additional 20 are currently inactive.
Those eligible during Phase 1 also will be eligible to apply during subsequent phases. Le said he expects a little more than 200 applications for Phase 2.
Le also said that, based on the results of a survey conducted between February and March of this year, a significant proportion of those who were displaced by the eruption still live in the Puna District.
According to the survey results, just over half of the 815 respondents currently reside on the Big Island. Of them, 238 are still living somewhere in Puna, and 166 live in Hilo.
Despite this, some eruption victims felt that the county has not directed enough of its disaster recovery resources toward the areas directly impacted by the eruption.
Resident Paul Kuykendall called the recovery programs “Build Back Elsewhere” — seemingly a reference to the Build Back Better economic agenda proposed by President Joe Biden — lamenting that only a “very small percentage” of recovery funds are to be spent in the most affected areas.
In particular, Kuykendall mentioned the county’s plans to use about $40 million in federal and state funds to restore water infrastructure around the county.
In October, county officials announced that the county would focus the bulk of its water restoration efforts on water line improvement projects in Puna communities not directly impacted by lava. The largest project within the eruption zone is a potential replacement of the water line to Isaac Hale Beach Park that could cost up to $6.6 million.
But Planning Director Zendo Kern said the county’s infrastructure restoration decisions were based on the results of the survey and the current status of the buyout program, explaining that it “doesn’t make sense” to invest in infrastructure in an area that residents are leaving behind.
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