Hundreds turned away after eviction prevention program loses funds

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An eviction prevention program whose funding wasn't renewed by the state has had to turn away 300 people in the last month alone.

The Aloha United Way initiative was one of the state's most effective homelessness prevention programs, and officials say the high number of people seeking housing assistance who have been turned away underscores the severity of Hawaii's affordable housing crisis.

"One of the things most people don't understand is Hawaii has a very, very high percentage of folks that rent -- 43 percent," said Norm Baker, chief operating officer at Aloha United Way. "About 70 percent are living paycheck to paycheck."

Figures show the Coordinated Statewide Homeless Initiative helped eviction rates on Oahu drop a staggering 25 percent.

Despite that success, the state cut funding to the program. Officials said the program wasn't funded because of shifting priorities. Dollars were moved from emergency programming to efforts that focus on more long-term solutions.

The initiative provided clients up to three months in rental assistance.

To be eligible, applicants had to prove that once they got help they'd be sustainable.

In less than a year, the program saved 1,529 households (or 4,729 people) from eviction.

Money for the program ran out about a month ago, but already the courts are seeing the repercussions.

"The number of evictions that get stopped because of charitable aid is basically down to nothing," said attorney David Chee.

Chee said what made the program successful is how quickly it could pay the landlord. Under Hawaii law, a tenant can be evicted in as little as 15 days.

"That was the only program that could work fast enough," said Chee.

A bill before lawmakers would save the program, but it's not currently scheduled for a hearing. It's up to state Sen, Jill Tokuda put it on the schedule and that has to happen in the next couple days.

Hawaii News Now put a call into her office to see what she plans to do, but got no immediate response.

Baker said given that rents are only rising, the number of people falling into the streets will only rise with the program gone.

"There are more and more people who are those paycheck to paycheck. monthly renters who are going to wind up being evicted," he said. "They're going to wind up being homeless. It's inevitable."

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