Homeless bills applauded
By James Gonser
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer
By James Gonser
The state Capitol rotunda was filled with optimism yesterday as more than 200 people waved signs, cheered on speakers and sang together at a rally to support affordable housing and homelessness initiatives.
With Gov. Linda Lingle and legislators introducing bills to pay for homeless shelters and build affordable housing, along with addressing the state's $574 million surplus, people who have fought for years for affordable housing are hoping this could be their year.
The Rev. Bob Nakata of Kahalu'u United Methodist Church said that with an estimated 6,000 homeless people living on streets, parks and beaches, there is an immediate need for housing but that in previous years it was difficult to get homeless and housing bills funded.
"The governor and legislators have heard the cry of the people," Nakata said. "I'm flabbergasted."
A shrinking rental market and rising home prices have made affordable housing an issue for a greater number of Hawai'i residents and pushed more people into homelessness. The state has been operating with a budget deficit for many years and has cut back money for human services, said Rep. Michael Kahikina, D-44th (Nanakuli, Honokai Hale), chairman of the House Housing Committee.
Lingle sat through the Housing Committee meeting yesterday listening to bills wrtten by Democrats. Lingle also attended a hearing on energy and environmental bills Monday.
"Both these issues are priorities for the administration," said Russell Pang, the governor's spokesman. "She wanted to hear what was being discussed on these two topics. The committee, the public and the governor agree it's not a partisan issue. Affordable housing is affecting everyone in the community."
Lingle has proposed using $20 million of the state surplus to repair and expand homeless shelters operated by private groups. She also want to raise the qualifying income limit for affordable housing.
The Joint Legislative Housing and Homeless Task Force has introduced a package of bills with a goal of building 10,000 to 15,000 affordable units within five years. Its spending proposal includes $40 million to support homeless shelters and service providers.
In the rotunda, Quinten Cuesta pumped up the crowd with his personal success story. Cuesta and his wife and two children found themselves homeless and living on the beach in Nanakuli after their rent was raised beyond what the working couple could afford.
With the help of charity groups, they became first-time homeowners Monday.
"A lot of people out there are struggling," Cuesta said. "They go to work but don't qualify for public support and still need help to pay their rent.
"I ask all of you to hear and listen and to help make some kind of affordable housing plan work for everyone out there."
Reach James Gonser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: Of the 10 bills on housing and homelessness heard in the state House Housing Committee on Wednesday, three were passed on to other committees and seven were deferred until next week. A previous version of this story contained incorrect information.