A general view shows damage in the fire ravaged town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii, U.S., August 15, 2023. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File.
Grieving and overwhelmed, Loeffler was soon beset by emails with unsolicited proposals she sell the Lahaina beachfront plot in Maui where her grandfather built their teal-green wooden home in the 1940s.
“It felt like we had vultures preying on us,” said Loeffler, 69, a retired flight attendant, sitting in the brown-carpeted hotel room in Maui to which she was evacuated, an untouched container of cooked powdered egg and cold potato by her bedside.
HAPA along with the state government is documenting unsolicited purchase offers in Lahaina, the early 19th century capital of the kingdom of Hawaii before its overthrow in a U.S.-backed 1893 coup.
Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection warned of people making below-market offers, playing on fears of foreclosure and the cost of rebuilding. The office declined to comment on how many such offers had been reported.
Many long-term resident families who lost homes in the Lahaina fire did not have insurance, either because their homes had no mortgage or did not meet building codes, said Sterling Higa, director of Housing Hawaii’s Future which seeks to end the state’s workforce housing shortage.
How long residents can hold out against property offers may depend on the type of transitional housing they get as they wait to rebuild, said Higa.
Disaster response experts expect temporary housing to be provided through a mix of hotel rooms and condos, conversion of rentals, mobile home encampments and possibly some family transfers to Honolulu, the state’s largest city.
“Keeping people nearby and engaged in recovery is a good first step to preserving the population,” said Andrew Rumbach, a specialist in disasters, climate and communities at the Urban Institute in Washington.
At stake is the survival of Hawaiian culture, said Kaliko Baker, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii.
“If people buy land and build their own Lahaina does that include Hawaiian language schools?” said Baker, in reference to one such school that burned down next to an historic Lahaina church.