Housing scramble underway as lava evacuations drag on

HILO, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since the Kilauea eruptions began in early May, thousands of residents have been forced to evacuate from their homes in lower Puna. And five weeks later, many are still looking for a place to live.

As Hawaii County and the state scramble for housing options, the first temporary housing project is already being built — without government help.

In the 14 years Gilbert Aguinaldo has worked construction, he's never seen a project come together like this.

"Never heard of anything this quick, this fast, this many people involved," said Aguinaldo, owner of Big Island Electrical Services.

Crews started the ground prep last Friday. Come the weekend, 20 micro-structures will fill an 8-acre plot of land behind Sacred Heart Church off Pahoa Village Road.

"The structures measure 10-by-12, about 120 square feet floor space," said Darryl Oliveira, safety manager with HPM Building Supply.

The project comes as vigorous eruptions continue on the Big Island, decimating whole neighborhoods and hundreds of homes.

Hundreds of those who have had to flee their homes are staying in shelters — some for a fifth week. Others have been staying with friends or family, renting out rooms or homes, or couch surfing.

The land for the Pahoa housing was originally leased to Hope Services Hawaii to be used as a homeless shelter. But for now that's on hold, as more than 100 volunteers combine their many skills sets to help neighbors in need.

"It can't be said enough that this effort was originiated by members of the community," said Oliveira. "Everything here is donated. The materials, the equipment, the time, the resources."

Once the village opens, outreach workers will be on site to help connect residents with permanent housing.

"The goal is to view this as a revolving door. People coming in here having the time and opportunity to sort through things find permanent solutions and do it in a private secure setting. Rather than trying to do it out of their car or in an emergency shelter," said Oliveira.

As Aguinaldo watches his vision come to life, he credits the aloha of the people on the Big Island for making the project possible.

"Instilling hope in our community that everything is going to be ok," said Aguinaldo.

To apply for a unit, head to Pahoa Community Center from Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The head of Hope Services Hawaii says they're looking for additional sites to duplicate this project.

"More land, more money, more people to come forward," said Brandee Menino. "If you can help contact the Office of Housing."

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.