BY SEN. WILL ESPERO – The current need for affordable housing in our state has reached critical mass. With a new generation of working class families seeking housing, it is imperative that our state help to address the state’s limited supply of housing options. While the affordable housing supply is critical, the homeless crisis in our state, especially in Honolulu, is an epidemic that requires immediate attention by government and the private sector. During the 2014 legislative session, policymakers made significant headway in addressing affordable housing and homelessness by the passage of several key measures.
Senate Bill 2542 restores the allocation of the conveyance tax to the rental housing trust fund back to 50%. An estimated $33,100,000 will be generated in fiscal year 2014-2015 that can be used to provide loans and grants for the development and construction of rental housing units.
House Bill 2251 increases the Hula Mae Multifamily Revenue Bond authorization, which helps first-time homebuyers with 30-year mortgages, from $750,000,000 to $1,000,000,000. House Bill 2248 authorizes the Hawaii Housing Finance Development Corporation to issue bonds for infrastructure for land owned by an eligible developer of affordable housing.
In addition, the state budget bill, House Bill 1700 included a number of appropriations to address housing and homelessness including an appropriation for the Housing First program. A total of $20,782,667 which includes general, federal, and other funds were allocated for homeless programs and services. $26,000,000 was appropriated for public housing development, improvements, and renovations and $7,832,000 will go towards low income housing tax credit loans.
Many dedicated individuals, committees, churches, and organizations are working to end homelessness with many ideas and suggestions. One idea I have been supportive of for years is a temporary homeless village on Sand Island. As a Boy Scout, I stayed in a heavy canvass tent with a wooden floor one summer in Germany decades ago. It was a very secure safe tent, and I can visualize at least 100 tents on Sand Island.
The tent city I am envisioning would have the necessary social service support, transportation to and from town, and security for our current homeless. Showers and restrooms are already in place so no expensive infrastructure would be needed to be built or installed. Parking is available, and this transitional area is also close to the ocean and sun which could be very therapeutic to some who need assistance and help to fight addictions and health issues. Ultimately, permanent housing would be secured.
Sand Island Park is one of our most under-utilized beach parks in Honolulu, and its proximity to downtown could make it attractive to those who are currently loitering in town, near the airport, and Waikiki. This area should be better than sleeping on a sidewalk, against a fence or wall, or next to the shoulder of a road, and the issue of not-in-my-backyard would be minimal in my opinion.
Dormitory-style housing for adults is another option that should seriously be considered. Many homeless are single individuals, and dormitory housing can provide inexpensive housing options for those who could live in this environment.
At the end of the day, however, we just need to build more affordable housing for our families and residents. There are many employed homeless who earn some wages and just need an affordable place to live. Government, the private sector, and non-profit organizations must continue to work together to solve these problems.
Will Espero is a Democrat who represents the Ewa district in the State Senate and also serves as the chair of the Senate Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs (PSM) Committee. Espero is a candidate for Congress in the 2014 Democratic primary.