HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers have identified homelessness and affordable housing as two of their top priorities this legislative session.
And on Monday, legislators learned just how dire the situation is for those who have the greatest need.
Hakim Ouansafi, Hawaii Public Housing Authority's executive director, told lawmakers that 19,000 families are now on the waiting list to get into public housing.
"There's a lot of folks that fall into different economic conditions that come onto our waiting list," he said. "It used to be 30,000 plus."
Officials say the average wait to get into public housing is six to eight years.
Domestic abuse victims and the homeless have preference. Their wait: about two years.
"Unfortunately, there is a tremendous amount of demand as well as a limited inventory," Ouansafi said. "We don't get to everyone as fast as we would love to."
Ouansafi says more than 600 families were moved into public housing in 2015. Another 199 were placed through a program for veterans.
Meanwhile, about 200 families got Section 8 rental vouchers.
Ouansafi says a limited inventory is one of the biggest problems the agency has in cutting down its waiting list.
The need for more housing across the board -- from public assistance to workforce ready -- was a major focus of Monday morning's joint housing committees briefing at the state Capitol.
"I'm wondering when we're going to see more built? Additional units coming in?" asked state Rep. Jo Jordan (D-Waianae, Maili).
Ouansafi answered: "From the minute we have a project, it will probably take about 12-18 months before we have a shovel in the ground."
In addition to the time it takes for environmental impact assessments, traffic studies and infrastructure reviews -- officials say government red tape has contributed to significant delays in getting new units built.
In some instances, Ouansafi waited up to a year to get permitted -- even as a state agency.
"We have to take a new look at how we do things -- including, how can we better utilize government lands along the rail line?" said state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz (D - Mililani Mauka, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village).
Transit-oriented development has been touted as a prime opportunity for the state to create much-needed new inventory.
"Government owns about 1,200 acres within a half-mile radius of all the rail stations, so if we could develop our government lands along the rail line to put up rentals and affordable housing," Dela Cruz said.
Ouansafi says the agency still isn't accepting new applications for Section 8 vouchers, but they plan to re-open their list "soon."
In the meantime, he warns about a scam that has been targeting folks who think they're applying for public assistance.
Ouansafi says the Hawaii Public Housing Authority does not charge for any applications of Section 8 vouchers. He says officials have been made aware there is a website asking for people's credit card information. The state Attorney General's office and police department have been notified.