Hawaiians Brace for Fight Vs Predator Land Buyers After Maui Fires

(Photo by State Farm under CC BY 2.0)
(Photo by State Farm under CC BY 2.0)

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Ash from the devastating Maui wildfires still covers much of the burnt land, property owners have seen homes and businesses razed, and emergency services are still finding victims.

But that won’t stop predatory bargain hunters from flocking in to nab land on the cheap.

A History of Displacement

The recent fires have contributed to one of the worst natural disasters in Hawaii’s history. In the town of Lahaina alone, fires destroyed more than 2,700 structures, causing roughly $5.6 billion in damages, according to Hawaii Governor Josh Green. On top of that, the official death toll has surpassed 110 victims. Unfortunately, it’s the perfect environment for real estate buyers to swoop in and offer pittances for damaged property. Local Mark Stefl told USA Today he was approached by developers, and the offer felt like being kicked while he was down.

This isn’t new territory for Hawaiians. For more than a century, the state’s natives have struggled against displacement. In the late 1800s, the US military aided in a coup led by financiers, sugar plantation owners, and missionaries to overthrow Queen Liliʻuokalani’s Hawaiian Kingdom, which was later annexed by the US. Since then, natives have grappled with rich real estate magnates, second-home buyers, and hoteliers pricing them out of their homes to create a vacation mecca that contributes more than $2 billion of tax revenue each year.

It would be understandable for locals to just sell the land and move on, but residents like Tiare Lawrence told MSNBC that “Lahaina is not for sale”:

  • Multiple state agencies have cautioned residents about predatory land buyers during this traumatic time, and Green asked the attorney general to create a “moratorium on any transactions.”
  • As a warning to unethical land buyers, Hawaii’s Office of Consumer Protection released a statement saying, “Any reported instances of misconduct will be investigated, and if confirmed, wrongdoers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

Locals Stick Together: Given Hawaii’s history, many natives distrust the government. Kaniela Ing, a native Hawaiian community organizer, told CNN false rumors are spreading that locals have to surrender their land if they accept FEMA money. Ing and other local volunteers are taking a very community-based approach, meeting with survivors one-on-one to see what type of help they can offer. “We protect our own,” Ing told CNN. “That’s just how it’s been.”