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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Passing the housing omnibus is essential

The housing crisis in Hawai'i is such a mammoth problem, encompassing everything from homelessness to affordability. That makes it all the more crucial for the Legislature to ensure a comprehensive bill passes this session.

House Bill 2176 is the platform for such an omnibus measure, and this bill should be going into a conference committee this week. While there are several good ideas in this bill, there are some key ideas that should be a part of any final legislation.

These essential components include $20 million in grants for homeless services and programs, and another $10 million to repair vacant federal and state housing projects. These are small amounts compared to the state's surplus and, if anything, should be increased, not decreased.

In addition, the bill also should require the state and counties to identify locations for temporary emergency shelters, a sensible step. When Honolulu closed Ala Moana Beach Park at night, it exposed the severe shortage that exists in the city. There was no place for the homeless to go.

State lawmakers also should repeal the law that makes it a criminal offense to be caught sleeping in a public park. Aside from showing a lack of compassion, the law is also difficult to enforce and does little to address the heart of the homelessness problem.

In terms of more practical solutions, legislators must also fully realize the potential of the conveyance tax to boost the state's rental housing trust fund. Currently just 30 percent goes into the fund. Shifting that to as much as 65 percent could raise up to $28 million more for rental housing.

Another important idea that deserves consideration is a plan to allow the state to lease to private or nonprofit developers public lands for up to $1 a year for 99 years to build new affordable housing units. There should be strong safeguards, of course, to ensure these units remain affordable in perpetuity.

Lawmakers have the opportunity to make some headway in addressing Hawai'i's housing crisis. And, as the Ala Moana park evictions underscored, the time to do this is now.