Mayor Bissen delivers 2024 State of the County Address; Rent stabilization, illegal short-term rental enforcement among priorities

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Maui Mayor Richard Bissen. (3.15.24) PC: Wendy Osher

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen, Jr. delivered his 2024 State of the County Address on Friday evening from the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. During his address, the mayor focused on wildfire recovery efforts and discussed housing solutions as the county continues to find its way through the rebuilding process and economic recovery following the August 2023 wildfires.

Mayor Richard Bissen’s 2024 State of the County Address (3.15.24) PC: County of Maui

The evening started off with a remembrance tribute video, honoring the lives of the 101 individuals who perished in the Lahaina fire, and the two individuals who remain unaccounted for. The opening segment also included a reflective tribute from Kumu Hula Kealiʻi Reichel and his Hālau Keʻalaokamaile.

Kumu Hula Kealiʻi Reichel and his Hālau Keʻalaokamaile. PC: County of Maui (3.15.24)

During his address, Mayor Bissen announced that he will submit to the Maui County Council proposed legislation to help stabilize rent in Maui County. He also vowed to tackle the long-existing housing crisis through a new rent stabilization proposal and a measure to crack down on illegal short-term rentals.

“My proposal is intended to bring relief to thousands of our residents who face growing insecurity of having a roof over their head for themselves and their families, and to help bring stability to our community’s great need for housing while fairly balancing the needs of rental property owners,” he said.

Mayor Bissen also announced that he will be reversing a 2011 internal County policy of not taking anonymous complaints regarding illegal short-term rentals. Soon, the Planning Director will begin taking all complaints over illegal short-term rentals and will pursue them to the fullest extent. Additionally, the Minatoya units that are classified as exempt will undergo a policy and legal review, as the Mayor and his administration seek more options for housing.


Only seven months into his new administration, Mayor Bissen said Aug. 8, 2023, “became a day none of us will forget.”

“Everything changed on that day, and overnight, life as we knew it was no more,” said Mayor Bissen. “It was a day that challenged our fortitude and shook our foundation in the face of unimaginable devastation and disbelief. The only thing that was certain, is that we would not stop until our people, and our island, were made whole once again.”

Mayor Bissen extended thanks to emergency responders for their bravery and focus on their mission as Maui took on three major fires that simultaneously threatened Kihei, severely damaged Kula, and destroyed Lahaina – stretching the fire and police departments to their limits.

Mayor Richard Bissen with officer Kameryn Pupunu (middle) and Congresswoman Jill Tokuda (right) during the 2024 State of the County Address. PC: (3.15.24) County of Maui.

“As my staff and I supported the Emergency Operations Center, we knew that lifesaving emergency crews and personnel from County, State and Federal departments were at the forefront of the crisis as it unfolded,” said Mayor Bissen. “Countless heroic acts took place during the wildfires, resulting in many lives being saved.”

Also recognized were county 911 dispatchers who took 4,500 calls on that day.


Seventy-six of Maui’s own County employees lost their homes in the August wildfires. “In an instant, they became both survivors and emergency response workers. They continued to work to support the County’s operations and recovery efforts, even as they faced the uncertainties and struggles that all survivors have contended with,” he said.

Community in action – what resiliency looks like

Mayor Bissen said the perseverance and strength of Maui’s people were undeniable as the days unfolded after Aug. 8.

  • He thanked the Hawai‘i Community Foundation for the establishment of the Maui Strong Fund that has raised $187 million dollars to support immediate and long-term recovery needs for Maui.
  • The Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement started the Host Housing Support Program to connect displaced survivors with host families and launched the Kāko‘o Maui Workforce Development Program. They are also developing housing on County-owned vacant land at Maui Lani for survivors and quickly pivoted in 47 days to host the annual CNHA conference on Maui to help boost the Maui economy.
  • Immediately following the wildfires, Maui United Way distributed more than $7.8 million in direct cash payments of $1,000 to nearly 8,000 fire-impacted individuals, and provided more than $500,000 in grants to 44 local grassroots organizations for immediate post-disaster support.
  • Michael Capponi and his team at Global Empowerment Mission committed $15 million in aid for short- and long-term housing options, and opened the Westside Distribution Center, which to date has provided over 30,000 food and supply kits to survivors.
  • Chancellor Lui Hokoana of UH Maui and Chef Hui, in their collaboration produced over 50,000 meals for same-day delivery to wildfire victims, feeding thousands of survivors in the aftermath of the fires.

Nonprofit organizations that answered the call to support emergency needs also included Jen Karaca of Common Ground Collective, Dean Wong of IMUA Family Services, Sue Sadecki of Ka Hale A Ke Ola, Debbie Cabebe of Maui Economic Opportunity, Maui Food Bank, and many more.

Mayor Bissen also outlined countless acts of aloha, the extent of which, he said “we will never fully know.”

Government in action – “what kuleana looks like

Just as the community sprang into action, help from our government partners began flowing in. At the height of the response, Maui had over 1,000 personnel on-island supporting the County team, according to Mayor Bissen.

Mayor Richard Bissen (second from left) with Hawai’i’s other county mayors during his 2024 State of the County Address. PC: (3.15.24) County of Maui.

“In the first hours, when the magnitude of the disaster was still unfolding, the US Coast Guard rescued and recovered many people from the ocean. Despite vessels exploding in the water, thick and toxic smoke choking the air, the Coast Guard relentlessly searched the offshore waters for any survivors. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Coast Guard personnel, and to all first responders who put their lives on the line to save others,” the mayor said.

Others who came to Maui’s aid included teams from California’s Santa Rosa, Sonoma, and Town of Paradise, along with Colorado – who themselves all survived devastating wildfires.

“And the use of specialized search teams sent by five other states, averaging 95 members per team and a total of 46 search dogs that were crucial in searching for missing loved ones,” said Mayor Bissen.

“With the help of a capable local vendor, we quickly deployed the first few pages of what is now an extensive online resource with information on all aspects of recovery. This website,, now contains over 400 pages and is designed to support survivors and our entire community as we move through the complex recovery process,” said Mayor Bissen.

At the County level, the mayor said he is extremely proud of his cabinet and administration for their “support, sleepless nights, and countless acts of courage.”

A statewide food and supply distribution effort, championed by Lt. Gov. Luke, Chad Buck of Hawaiʻi Foodservice Alliance, CNHA, Hawaiʻi Food Bank, and the County brought 1 million pounds of food and supplies in the first five days following the fires, and 16 million pounds total in the months to follow, the mayor said.

“I would be remiss if I did not mention the many ways that Councilmember Tamara Paltin has tended to her community of Lahaina and the greater West Maui district she calls home. Day after day, with many sleepless nights, Councilmember Paltin showed up for her constituents, securing supplies, cooking meals – sharing her home and her aloha with them at every turn,” said Mayor Bissen.

Council Member Tamara Paltin was among those recognized for response during the August 2023 wildfires. (3.15.24) PC: County of Maui

She and Upcountry Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura have worked tirelessly in extremely challenging circumstances, offering comfort, support and help to their communities.”

“As Mayor, I have witnessed first-hand the incredible efforts of our County ‘ohana – the silent heroes, who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of their community, recovery efforts, protecting our people, keeping the water flowing, protecting our precious resources, and tackling extremely complex issues. Many lessons were learned and are still being learned, but one thing holds true: It will take relationships, resources, and resilience, and a collaborative effort between community and government,” said Mayor Bissen.

Forward path for Kula and Lahaina

Twenty-nine weeks have passed since the Maui wildfires. Today, work has been completed to clear all 26 Kula properties that were impacted by the wildfire, and the County is working to review and approve submitted permit applications for those Kula landowners.

“We know that the vast majority of Lahaina survivors desire to remain in West Maui in interim housing while we rebuild Lahaina,” said Mayor Bissen.

With combined efforts from the County, State, and FEMA – several key housing projects are moving forward, anticipating the addition of 2,000 units.

FEMA’s Kilohana project will offer 169 modular homes in Lahaina, with an additional 250 proposed at Kāʻanapali 2020, and the State’s Kalaʻiola project will also bring 450 temporary housing units to the west side.

Other projects being planned by both FEMA and the State will provide the desperately needed remaining units, and will be expedited through design and construction.

“Housing remains at the forefront of our efforts, and we cannot look away from the glaring reality that losing even one more family is one too many,” said Mayor Bissen.

“To that end, I have directed my cabinet to focus on the return of residents to their properties by prioritizing the restoration of critical infrastructure in Lahaina. Housing projects like Kaiāulu o Kupuohi and Kaiāulu o Kūkuʻia on the west side are advancing, and once the expedited permitting office begins operating next month, we expect to see more progress,” said Mayor Bissen.

He said he has redirected Community Development Block Grant funds of over $4 million toward the acquisition of eight units that will provide permanent, safe and affordable rental housing opportunities for kūpuna displaced by the fires.

“Recognizing the need for assistance, I have sought out support from Gov. Green and the State Legislature for an appropriation of approximately $150 million for Fiscal Year 2025,” he said. “To date, the County has invested $8 million to support interim and permanent housing programs. On March 25, I will deliver the Fiscal Year 2025 budget to the Council, requesting $75 million to provide housing and other prioritized needs for wildfire survivors.”

Still, there is more work to be done in keeping the community informed, and engaged, the mayor said. “Since November, my administration has conducted 34 community meetings in Kula and Lahaina, weekly Lahaina meetings attended by 200 to 300 survivors, and 14 intimate talk-story sessions that provided the opportunity to sit with and listen to 280 survivors,” said Mayor Bissen. “Their stories are raw, emotional, and exemplify the trauma that survivors are working through, as well as the hardship and reality they continue to experience.”

Forward path for all of County

“Even as we explore every way possible to help our people heal, we also look into the past to examine the traditions that have sustained generations before us,” said Mayor Bissen.

Mayor Bissen said Maui must prepare for the years ahead as we navigate uncharted times – recovering from the impacts of the crisis, the rebuilding of Lahaina Town, and meeting the needs of neighborhoods and businesses across Maui, Moloka‘i and Lāna‘i.

“Our budget staff and department teams have been working hard to balance the needs of our current crisis with the needs of countywide operations. While we are seeking an appropriation of $150 million from the state and anticipate federal reimbursements for disaster response costs, our proposed budget seeks to provide vital and reliable services to our residents, and is also focused on recovery and averting future disasters,” said Mayor Bissen.

“Fiscal stability and resiliency are crucial now more than ever as we balance short- and long-term needs and take steps to bolster our economy, weakened by the disaster,” said Mayor Bissen.

Mayor Bissen reports that the County has managed to retain its excellent bond ratings, even after the fires.

“The County’s financial management and condition after the fires was reviewed extensively by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s rating agencies, and they provided the reassuring news that the financial outlook for the County of Maui is STABLE,” according to Mayor Bissen.

“It means that with our high credit rating, the County can continue to qualify for lower interest rates when we need to issue bonds to pay for large capital projects. This lowers the cost of the project significantly, and translates into much better use of your taxpayer dollars for other things besides paying interest,” he said.

With housing at a crisis level, and with rent skyrocketing far beyond affordability for Maui’s people and worsening our island’s crisis Mayor Bissen said, “I am prioritizing actions to increase housing units, rent stabilization, and taking action on short-term rentals.”

  • Short-term rental units, now classified as exempt under a ruling known as the Minatoya exemption, will be undergoing a policy and legal review from my corporation counsel as we seek more options through our island’s existing inventory of housing.
  • I will also be reversing a 2011 internal policy regarding pursuing anonymous short term rental complaints. I have instructed my Planning Director to pursue all complaints regarding illegal STRl properties – regardless of whether the complaint originated from an anonymous or named source.

Rental increases, especially for people renting on a month- to-month basis, have risen extremely and dramatically. This, in turn, has caused many local families to leave the island, according to Mayor Bissen. The situation has grown even more dire since the August wildfires. He outlined several areas to address this pressing need:

  • I will be submitting legislation to the County Council to implement rent stabilization procedures that will address escalating rent costs in Maui County. My proposal is intended to bring relief to thousands of our residents who face growing insecurity of having a roof over their head for themselves and their families, and to help bring stability to our community’s great need for housing while fairly balancing the needs of rental property owners.
  • To increase our housing inventory, I have directed my team to move forward with necessary steps in support of allowing accessory dwelling units on properties, and to urgently prepare for both interim and long-term housing development.
  • To further assist with rental housing needs, the 175-unit Haggai Institute building in Kīhei will be purchased by the State’s Hawaiʻi Housing Finance and Development Corporation and leased to the County for use as affordable rental units – 25% of the total units are set aside for teachers, and will add to Maui’s inventory of affordable rentals.
  • In the next fiscal year, the newly formed East Maui Water Authority is expected to begin operating as a department. We will also welcome two additional departments established as a result of charter amendments passed by voters in 2022. The Department of ʻŌiwi Resources and a Department of Housing will be established in July.
  • We are building our community disaster resources by growing our county-run Citizen Emergency Response Team program, also known as CERT. And our Planning Department, together with our Maui Emergency Management Agency team and Fire and Police departments, are examining existing evacuation routes – not just in Lahaina- but in a number of areas.
  • I have also approved the addition of 29 positions in our Department of Fire and Public Safety. “These expansion positions will undoubtedly increase overall firefighting capability across our County and enhance the Fire Department’s capacity to respond to future large-scale emergencies. These added positions will also expand our ability to assist our fellow Counties should the need arise,” said Mayor Bissen.
  • We are in the process of rebuilding MEMA with the renewed leadership of retired Maui Fire Department Battalion Chief Amos Lonokailua-Hewett. I have approved the addition of six positions including staffing for Moloka‘i, Lānaʻi, and Hāna for increased response.

Like many other employers, the County continues to face a serious shortage in our workforce, experiencing over 700 positions vacant throughout Maui’s departments.

“I’m pleased to announce a new initiative called County as a Campus launching this year that will bring teens to experience the different career opportunities right here in their hometown,” said Mayor Bissen. “Thousands of high school seniors on Maui, Molokaʻi and Lānaʻi start their post-high school life by deciding to stay in their hometown to work, or continue their education at a college or university. This program will provide incentive to keep our young kama‘āina on Maui, serving the community they love.”

“While we know we will rebuild our structures, our ultimate goal is to restore the heart of our community,” said Mayor Bissen.

I will leave you with the words of my brother, former Managing Director Keku Akana, paraphrasing Isaiah 58:12, “Remember who you are, the repairers of the breech, restorers of our homeland, our ruins will be rebuilt, our old foundations will be raised up,” the mayor said.

*Maui Now’s Wendy Osher contributed to this report.


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