County looks to Shipman about housing for evacuees

  • U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY photo A pahoehoe flow fed by overflows from the fissure 8 lava channel was active along Nohea Street on Wednesday morning in Leilani Estates.

HILO — Hawaii County is looking beyond public lands for a potential land swap with Puna residents who lost their homes to lava.

Roy Takemoto, an executive assistant to Mayor Harry Kim, said an idea being explored is to partner with a private land owner by providing infrastructure for a development in exchange for land being set aside for evacuees.


That’s an option that he said has been raised with W.H. Shipman, which plans to seek zoning changes for property in Keaau for a residential and commercial development. Takemoto said the discussions are preliminary and the matter hasn’t been taken to the Shipman board.

“We initiated talks with them, but they need to do their own due diligence,” he said.

Takemoto said a benefit would be housing displaced residents near services and jobs while being able to transfer the land to them. Use of state land near Pahoa for relocation is another option being considered, though residents likely would have to lease the land rather than own it outright.

Shipman President Bill Walter said they’ve had “broad discussions” with the county but wouldn’t characterize it as involving a land swap.

“There’s been a good discussion,” he added. “We certainly haven’t reached any conclusions.”

During Tuesday’s eruption meeting in Pahoa, Mayor Harry Kim characterized the relocation efforts as the “future of Puna,” which also will incorporate agriculture.

He asked for patience from those in attendance and noted that the state and Federal Emergency Management Agency is working on the issue.

“We’re not just talking about dividing up land,” Kim said. “We’re talking about building a community, which means resources of roads, resources of water and power and those things, which will take time to plan and implement.

“My promise to you is give us time, and we will get this done.”

At the meeting, residents were asked a series of questions about their situation, including whether they lost a home and how much they can afford for rent, with hand-held clickers recording their answers.

One question asked was where they would stay if they had to wait 18 months for a land exchange. Kim said he didn’t know if it would take that long.

Takemoto said the county is using the surveys to fine-tune assistance programs, which also could involve funding more Section 8 housing vouchers and changing building regulations to allow for additional housing units on properties, in addition to other steps. He noted that many participating in the survey responded that they couldn’t afford rent more than $500 a month.

“That tells me we need to focus a lot on rentals and possibly increase our amount for the Section 8 rental subsidy voucher program,” Takemoto said.

He said the county is creating a matrix of costs for different assistance programs in order to present a funding request to the state and federal agencies. The hope is to have that done by the end of the month.

“Once we have that, we will be able to sort out the different funding possibilities,” Takemoto said.

Evacuees can sign up for individual assistance through FEMA. The Hawaii Community Foundation also offers rental assistance.

Geoffrey Last, whose home is still standing in Leilani Estates, told county officials at the meeting Tuesday that FEMA denied him for assistance because the county gave him a letter saying he’s in a voluntary evacuation area. He said he can’t live in the home because of his wife’s medical issues and the proximity to the eruption.

Takemoto told him the county was meeting with FEMA on Wednesday and would raise that issue.

“(The letters) worked for some and worked against some,” he said.

FEMA officials have said that a denial usually isn’t the end of the process and there still can be ways to get help.


Last said he is appealing the denial, and agency representatives have asked him to show them doctor’s notes.

Email Tom Callis at

  1. Joan Sheldon July 12, 2018 6:20 am

    There has to be more ways to satisfy the needs of the evacuees and enabling some to buy private land instead of just leasing state land is probably a good idea. If the county allows a zoning change for Shipman and agrees to provide infrastructure (tax payer money) so Shipman can build a residential and commercial sub-division in exchange for land that the county can then sell, that sounds like a viable plan. The county would also be providing infrastructure (tax payer money) for roads, etc. on state land that they would lease, so it’s about the same or similar cost but with more return from selling private property than just collecting lease rents. Probably both should be considered … what do you think?

    1. KonaRich July 12, 2018 5:36 pm

      Rent subsidy’s will also need Tax payer moneys to work, unless you can get the government strict regulations and Unions out the way as well, not talking about a few feel good Regs, it will benefit the old cronyism that has been well entrenched here forever. After you buy the property you have land mortgage, now you go for a building loan bundling land and what you need to build, 6 month getting plans through building department, now after 1 year after you get through the inspection, the interest will rise . As I have read in other posts FEMA average payout is around 4K, not much for a fresh start. Folks I see in the community meetings sure look older, not sure, if they answered most rent ABLE to pay ($500 mo.) but it’s a good guess they did. I see no one in Kim’s orbit that know much but to Tax the rest of us into the poor house. Shipman will negotiate only in there favor and Kin and crew will roll over.

  2. Colin12345 July 12, 2018 8:37 am

    Let’s bear in mind that the folks who lost their homes chose to live in a very rural, large lot, forested environment, or close to a beautiful coastline and ocean environment. I’m sure not only because the land was cheap, and building code enforcement for various structures and additions was little or none. It’s a lifestyle thing. We should not expect that more than half of these people will accept living in a new urban subdivision of small lots unless it’s at half or less the market value of such homes. So, unless the County is planning, with FEMA, to sell these homes for about $100,000 less than what it cost them to put in the streets, utilities, driveways and houses, there’s not going to be as much demand to PURCHASE as some may think.
    Accordingly, I believe a major thrust should be toward RENTAL housing (including some fee simple housing for purchase as well), whether in Kea’au (Shipman) or closer to Pahoa on State land. The displaced persons choosing to stay in the rental house (instead of a purchase choice) could have as many years as they want to make more permanent plans, and the rental housing would always be a big asset for county housing, no matter what.
    Kea’au is a much better location for a county investment in infrastructure in building a new town, or parts of it, because it allows public services for people – including buses! – to be much more functional than another 6 – 8 miles further away from Hilo; the environment would be pretty much the same in both places, except for distance from Pahoa village.

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