Lawmakers unveil affordable housing plans to tackle homelessness

Lawmakers unveil affordable housing plans to tackle homelessness

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - According to the state Department of Human Services, more than 4,500 homeless are living on O'ahu and just over 6,300 statewide. Officials say approximately 40% of all Hawai'i's homeless are people with jobs who just can't find affordable housing.  Though experts say homelessness is a growing and complex problem that will need more than one solution, state lawmakers say one of their top priorities is creating more affordable housing.

As the face of homelessness changes, officials say so should the approach to help them.  Representative Romy Cachola has introduced the "Hale Kokua" bill in which residents who apply for the program would open their homes to those without – and in return benefit from reduced property taxes.  Cachola says his measure would only allow 10 resident applications per census tract and would require background checks from both parties.

"It's the least expensive way of housing the homeless – only for the working homeless – because we are going to use existing homes in the community," explained Cachola (D – Sand Island, Kalihi, Airport).

Senator Suzanne Chun Oakland says a 2011 study revealed 50,000 new affordable housing units would need to be built between 2012 and 2016 to meet new demand.  Of that amount, she says 19,000 units are needed for household incomes of $57,000 or less.

The Senate Human Services Committee Chair has introduced a measure to recommit existing Bureau of Conveyance Tax dollars to the Rental Housing Trust Fund, which has built over 4,000 affordable rental units since it was established in 1992.

"When the economy went down the percentage went down so we're trying to restore it back to 50%.  That would generate about 30 million of the100 million goal that we're looking at," described Chun Oakland (D – Downtown, Nuuanu, Liliha).

Local developer, Don Crescimanno, has a plan to make that money stretch.  He wants to partner with the state to build micro-homes, which are about 300 square feet and cost approximately $30,000.

"Low income housing that can both benefit the homeless right now and future generations of the Hawaii work force," said Crescimanno summarizing his mission.

Experts say it is public private partnerships that will make the difference, because the government can't tackle homelessness on its own.

"The answer to homelessness does not begin and end with what the government is going to do.  It actually begins with what happens in our communities because a homeless person will need a landlord that's willing to rent to them.  They will need someone who is willing to give them a job.  It's just a whole host of things that need to happen.  It really is a community-based problem and it needs to be a community-based solution," described Colin Kippen, the state Coordinator on Homelessness.

Advocates say it's time for the Aloha State to start living up to its name.

"That's why people come here.  They come here because they're seeking aloha and they're walking over someone sleeping on the street.  We're not showing that we practice that," said Kehaulani Lum of the Living Life Source Foundation, an organization committed to helping community youth through kupuna through traditional Native Hawaiian practices.

Another measure lawmakers have introduced will assist residents with low or modest income in securing home loans that will be guaranteed by the Hawai'i Housing Finance & Development Corporation, a state agency.

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