Hundreds seek help from state rent assistance program

Hundreds seek help from state rent assistance program

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new state program that offers emergency rent assistance to families is aimed at helping hundreds from ending up on the streets.

At the Hawaii Public Housing Authority in Liliha on Monday, families on the brink of missing their monthly rent payments met with agency employees to determine how much they were eligible for under the Rent Supplement Program.

Hakim Ouansafi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, said when his office opened the wait list for applicants, about 1,200 families signed up in just three days. His office aimed to help about 200 of those families on Monday, with some 500 being served by the end of the week.

The agency says it hopes to re-open the wait list for qualified applicants in about eight months.

"What this rent supplement does for them is keep them housed. These are people that are working, possibly minimum wage and others," he said.

In addition to low income working families, the state-funded program also helps individuals applicants like 65-year-old William Armstrong, a retiree. Armstrong says he lives off just $1,180 per month.

"I pay $700 rent out of that, I pay out of that electricity, I pay out of that the phone bill, pay out of that some other small bills," said Armstrong. "I would be left $150."

Armstrong discovered that he qualifies for an additional $234 each month to help make his rent.

"If they're short $200, we pay the landlord the (money) and they pay the difference in rent," Ouansafi said.

The state Legislature set aside a little over $1 million for the program. The dollar amount each family receives depends on their annual income. And in order to qualify, families must be at or near the poverty line -- 60 percent of the area's medium income.

That would mean earning approximately $45,000 per year -- or less -- for most working families.

"Unlike Section 8, we do not subsidize the whole thing," said Ouansafi. "The average we pay for Section 8 is $1,100 per month. The average we pay for this program is $234 a month."

Diane Wilkins, 62, also depends on money from the program. She lives in Waikiki and says she's in a constant struggle to make ends meet.

"It's going to be a very big help," she says.

Wilkins said she recently lost her food stamp benefits and has seen her rent continue to rise. She'll receive $300 of rent assistance from the state each month. Without it, she says, she would likely be out of options.

"I could probably end up homeless. I've been scared about that for a long time," Wilkins said.

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