Homeless crisis takes center stage in state Senate race

Homeless crisis takes center stage in state Senate race
Published: Aug. 10, 2016 at 8:48 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 10, 2016 at 10:26 PM HST
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Kim Coco Iwamoto (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Kim Coco Iwamoto (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Keone Nakoa (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Keone Nakoa (Image: Hawaii News Now)

NUUANU, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Former state Rep. Karl Rhoads left the House to run for the Senate seat vacated by longtime lawmaker state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland.

And he says he's running in large part to address homelessness in the district, which includes Nuuanu, Downtown, Tantalus, and parts of Kalihi,

His Democratic challengers also say homelessness is a central issue in the race.

If elected, Rhoads said, he'd push for more projects similar to the city's Hale Mauliola transitional housing center on Sand Island.

"It's a great project. It's going to take 90 people off the street," he said. "But we have 5,000 homeless people on Oahu, so you need another 49 of those probably. We just got to scale up and do more."

The other Democrats running for the seat are attorney Kim Coco Iwamoto, a well-known advocate for the LGBT community, and political newcomer Keone Nakoa.

Iwamoto says as a landlord, she rents half the units in her apartment building to low income and previously homeless families.

"We have a huge affordable housing shortfall," she said. "What we need to do is stop development for the luxury condos until those same developers commit to building affordable rental housing."

This is Nakoa's first run at elected office.

He was a Washington aide to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, and wants to focus on getting better results for the millions of dollars the state spends on homelessness solutions.

"We need to make sure that first and foremost there is more housing, we have more affordable housing and we have the opportunity for people to get back on their feet," he said.

Meanwhile, Rhoads said he wants to lower housing costs and make neighborhoods safer.

"Other issues are better education and government transparency," he said.

Iwamoto, who served on the Board of Education, vows to work on better pay for teachers.

"We need to make sure we're fully funding education. Hawaii is 18 percent below the national average," she said.

And in door-to-door discussions, Nakoa heard constituents complain of being left out of development planning in their neighborhoods. "We need to make sure that we have community input when we do development and make sure that we have that infrastructure and background to make them successful," said.

The top Democratic vote-getter in Saturday's primaries will face Republican Rod Tam and libertarian candidate Harry Ozols in the general election.

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