Report: Community ownership offers solution to land retention following Maui wildfires

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Kai Pali Place off of Front Street in Lahaina. (March 2024)

The expansion of community ownership of real estate in West Maui is one of the few solutions that promises to make homeownership more accessible and build local families’ wealth following the Aug. 8, 2023, wildfires in Lahaina. That according to findings of a report completed earlier this year by the nonprofit Hawai‘i Land Trust (HILT) and Kahālāwai Consulting LLC. The report studied the threat of accelerated land loss by local families and businesses.

By conducting a detailed analysis of Maui County property sales, assessments, and tax data, as well as reviewing studies on previous disasters in Florida, Louisiana, and California, the report shows that disaster-fueled real estate speculation can widen wealth inequality and drive displacement. Despite new regulation and a significant outpouring of public and private aid to counter immediate displacement, the Lahaina disaster may lead to increased real estate sales and accelerated land loss in the years to come.

The report estimates that, under a scenario with a 15% increase in average residential sales, as documented in other disaster-ravaged communities, Lahaina could see an estimated 6.5% of residential properties totaling $122 million change hands over the course of a year. Within 3 years, that equates to 20% turnover of ownership of at least $360 million in value.


“An estimated 95% of the lands affected by the Aug. 8 fire were residential and commercial parcels,” the report states, with owner-occupied homes representing less than 25% of properties in West Maui. “Maintaining the identity and character of Lahaina will be impossible if remaining local families and businesses are forced out by relentless pressure from offshore real estate investors.”

In the six months after the wildfires, more than $25 million in real estate was sold in Lahaina, according to the report. During that same timeframe, communities from Kā‘anapali to Kapalua saw more than $189 million in transactions.

Organizations like community land trusts, such as Nā Hale o Maui and the Lahaina Community Land Trust (LCLT), work to uphold affordable, owner-occupied residential properties. They help maintain the culture and character of a place and avoid displacement due to investment forces from outside. Land trusts are a proven method to acquire and hold community interests in real estate, with successful initiatives in cities including New York City and Seattle. There are at least a dozen existing land trusts operating across Hawai‘i.


HILT is a 501(c)3 statewide nonprofit that protects, stewards, and connects people to the lands that sustain Hawaiʻi.

L-R: Anastasia Arao-Tagayuna, Carolyn Auweloa, Kuʻulani Keohokalole, Kaipo Kekona, Tamara Paltin, Jennifer Oyer (Community Impact Advisors), Mikey Burke, Kapali Keahi. PC: Lahaina Community Land Trust

“Land trusts can help stabilize a community after a disaster, preserving the inseparable connection between people and ʻāina, ranging from affordable housing to commercial space to farmland to critical ecosystems,” said ‘Olu Campbell, President and CEO of HILT.

“The Lahaina Community Land Trust is grateful to HILT and Kahālāwai Consulting for producing this report which shines a bright light on what a powerful force community land trusts can be for social justice, anti-displacement, and community empowerment. In our hardest times, we realize the strength we have as a community. We really are stronger together.” said Mikey Burke, President of LCLT whose family survived the fire but lost their home in the disaster. “LCLT is committed to preserving the identity of Lahaina by protecting land and holding space for local families to stay and have a future in Lahaina. The people are the spirit of this place, and that spirit is strong.”


The report was funded by the KL Felicitas Foundation, which enables social entrepreneurs and enterprises worldwide to develop and grow sustainably. Kahālāwai Consulting focuses on the management of environmental conflict. The report was prepared by its principal, Jonathan Likeke Scheuer, with the assistance of Maui-born and based associate Marina Starleaf Riker, who lost the home she was renting in the Kula fires.


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