Despite huge need, state has only distributed 2% of $100M set aside for housing help

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Updated: Oct. 16, 2020 at 5:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state set aside $100 million in federal CARES Act funds to help struggling families with rent or mortgage payments. And so far, just 2% has been distributed.

That’s even though tens of thousands of Hawaii residents are in desperate need of help.

Over the past month, more than 20,000 people have applied for the state’s Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program. The vast majority haven’t gotten a dime.

David Moskowitz is among those who sought funding through the program. He lost his job in the hospitality industry in March, and is now strapped for cash as the bills keep coming.

“We cook at home a lot,” Moskowitz said, as he washed dishes at the kitchen sink.

“I need to get some new cookware,” he said holding up a pot. “But that’s an extravagance now.”

With his unemployment about to run out and his savings dwindling, Moskowitz says he was one of the first to apply for the state’s Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program, which expires on Dec. 31.

The program was launched by the Ige administration a month ago and eligible applicants could get up to $2,000 a month through the end of the year ― paid directly to their landlord.

“So far I’ve heard nothing back,” said Moskowitz. “My friends (who applied for the program) have heard nothing back either.”

The Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation confirms that of the $100 million set aside to help people with housing payments just 2% of that money has actually gone out.

The agency repeatedly declined HNN’s requests for an interview.

In an email, a spokesperson blamed the delays on the applicants ― claiming more than half of the 20,000 applications were “incomplete” or had “inaccurate contact information.”

Gov. David Ige offered a similar excuse and defended the program’s performance.

“I think everyone needs to recognize none of these programs were ever put into place before to the scale we are trying to implement," he said.

State Sen. Sharon Moriwaki called that response “ridiculous.”

During a Zoom interview Friday, she told HNN there’s was much more to the story.

She said although the state tasked about a dozen non-profits with approving applicants, the process has come to a grinding halt because the state is micromanaging the verification process.

She says there have also been problems with computer software, and she worries what will happen in the months to come. “If the governor’s proclamation lifts the moratorium on evictions all of these people are going to be out in the streets,” she said.

Moskowitz said the state delays are par for the course. “It looks just like another replay of the unemployment problem,” he said.

If nothing changes, Moskowitz says he’ll run out of money on Feb. 1. It’s a reality that’s forcing him to consider leaving home for an opportunity at work on the mainland.

“I grew up here. I went to Campbell in ’61,” he said. “I think a lot of us are just wondering, are we going to stay or are we going to go?”

The state has until the end of the year to distribute the housing assistance money.

Moriwaki says whatever is left over will be placed into the state’s unemployment fund.

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