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Lahaina residents worry developers will scoop up land after the recent wildfires

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Residents of Lahaina in Maui say they're worried about real estate developers scooping up land after the recent wildfires. Last week, some community members held a press conference calling on Hawaii Governor Josh Green to protect Lahaina from what they describe as predatory development.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TIARE LAWRENCE: The community is still reeling from the loss, and many people are still displaced from their homes. The governor's plan to rebuild the community must be based on the needs of the people, not the interests of developers.

FADEL: That's Lahaina resident Tiare Lawrence speaking at last week's press conference. She's part of Na Ohana o Lele, a coalition of community members who say they're worried about Lahaina being rebuilt without the buy-in of local residents. Tiare Lawrence joins us now. Good morning.

LAWRENCE: Aloha.

FADEL: You mention predatory development in that press conference. If you could describe what is happening that's making you concerned.

LAWRENCE: Well, disaster capitalism at its finest. You know, we've had families reached out by real estate interests offering cash for their properties. You know, it's just disgusting. And we're a tight-knit community. Of course, in Hawaii, the cost of living is so high. And as Native Hawaiians, we've been displaced for generations. So when people come in and they want to take away from us, it just continues the displacement and genocide, especially of the Native Hawaiian people.

FADEL: So they're taking advantage of this moment?

LAWRENCE: Yes. Absolutely.

FADEL: Your coalition has called on Hawaiian Governor Josh Green to meet three demands for Lahaina's recovery. If you could describe what those are.

LAWRENCE: Most importantly, the demands was to ensure that the community have a seat at the table on what happens to our town. We don't want government to come in and decide what's best for us or how our town should look. It's the people who should decide for themselves what our town will look like. And so we have grave concerns that they're just going to come in, build all this housing and then not think about what happens in the future. What impact will that have on our water resources? So, you know, just fast-tracking development is not a good way of developing houses. It needs to be thought out, holistic and sustainable, with the people involved in the process.

FADEL: So really what you're worried about is that the people that are from Lahaina who've lived there for generations, Indigenous communities, will be displaced or priced out of their own city in the process of redevelopment.

LAWRENCE: Yes. I mean, it'll take years. You know, you're looking at at least two to three years just to clean up alone. That's not even talking about rebuild. I mean, you know, we're looking four or five years maybe, at the earliest, before anybody can build their first home. And so, you know, unfortunately, I already know people that have jumped on a plane and moved to the continent, moved to America. And it's frustrating, and it's heartbreaking because these are people of our community. And I'm worried that they won't come back home because it's the people that make Lahaina special. We're challenged with that situation, but we can't tell them they can't leave, right? They've - they're traumatized. There's nothing left here. But we have to work towards making it easier for them to come back home and, when that time comes, streamlining that process for them to rebuild on their property.

FADEL: Will your coalition be working with the governor as this long-term process goes on?

LAWRENCE: We will be doing everything we possibly can to hold the government accountable, but we do hope that he allows a seat for us at the table, you know, because we are Lahaina. We represent the community, and it's better to work with us than work against us. You know, we are lawyered up. We are ready to fight with all of our hearts and soul to protect Lahaina. And so we're ready for the long haul. I know for people like myself and other members of our coalition, this is our life mission. We have taken on this kuleana and responsibility. And we're going to follow through not only for ourselves, but for our children and future generations of Lahaina.

FADEL: Tiare Lawrence is part of the Na Ohana o Lele, a coalition of community members in Lahaina. Thank you so much for your time.

LAWRENCE: Mahalo nui. Aloha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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