By Associated Press - Sunday, April 25, 2021

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - Property owners on the Big Island who were affected by the 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption can apply to have Hawaii County buy back their land starting next week.

Hawaii County said the first phase of its Kilauea Disaster Recovery Voluntary Housing Buyout Program will address properties used as a primary residence during the eruption. The program will begin accepting applications on April 30.

“The 2018 eruption upended the lives of lower Puna residents, and many who lost a home are still needing help with finding secure, permanent housing. This federally funded program will help them get back on their feet and address an urgent need following the disaster while reducing risks from future eruption,” said Douglas Le, a disaster recovery officer.

The program is funded by $84 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants to purchase eruption-damaged land for up to $230,000.

The Hawaii County Council unanimously voted in March to provide funding for recovery projects. About $78 million will be used for the voluntary housing buyout program and another $1.6 million will go toward a program to help qualified residents who were displaced by the eruption find permanent housing. The remaining $4 million will cover administrative expenses.

“These programs will help Puna residents displaced by the eruption secure stable housing and recover financially,” Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth said in a statement last month.

Le said he expects the recovery team to accept about 300 applications in the first phase. Officials said 294 of the 612 homes destroyed during the eruption were primary residences in Hawaii Island’s Puna district.

Owners of secondary residences will be able to apply for the program from Nov. 1 through Jan. 31, 2022, under the second phase. The third phase will begin May 2, 2022, through July 29, 2022, and include owners of undeveloped properties.

People eligible under the first phase will still be able to apply in subsequent phases, Le said. However, he recommended people apply when they are first eligible to ensure there is enough funding to cover properties. The sales price of the properties will be determined by its value before the eruption.

Le said the entire process from application to the final buyout is expected to take about six months. Once complete, all structures on properties purchased through the program will be demolished.

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