Filling Empty Public Housing Units

Chad Taniguchi
Chad Taniguchi

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- It seems like a simple solution to Hawaii's homeless problem, put them in hundreds of vacant public housing units. But that can't be done until things are cleaned up. Keeping many from their dream of a roof over their heads.

They are some of the most affordable apartments in the state, but hundreds are just waiting for people to move in. Because maintenance was a mess, many residents couldn't get into public housing.

"Its too hard in Hawaii to find low rent apartments, especially with this many kids. We couldn't get in anywhere, so I am glad we have housing." says Jacqueline Rellin, who lives in Puahala Homes on Oahu.

Hawaii has over 6000 affordable public housing units. But nearly one out of every ten units is vacant. "Right now there are 576 units vacant" says Chad Taniguchi, with the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.

Less than half of the units need major repairs of renovations, but the majority of units are sitting vacant because of minor problems. "A good cleaning, painting, fixing holes in walls, minor repairs, things you and I could do if we had some time" adds Taniguchi.

Some of the units are rentable again because of volunteer efforts to clean up and repair these critical housing units. But there is a shortage of state workers to do the entire job. And that is just one of the problems creating the backlog of maintenance work.

"A lack of funding, lack of good management, and a lack of residents taking good care of units." Some of those moving out are making it more difficult for those who want to move in. "When some people move out, their units are all wrecked. And it takes long time for them to fix them." says longtime resident of Puahala Homes, Lani Rivera.

Along with stepping up maintenance work on the units, the Housing Authority plans to step up enforcement of rules. Which means those who damage the apartments may be forced to move, reducing the need for additional maintenance.

There are an estimated 11,000 people on the waiting list to get into affordable housing. The Housing Authority hopes to have hundreds of those vacant homes repaired and ready for new tenants before the end of the year.