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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Let's clear barriers to using public housing

It's time for a serious housecleaning here and this means more than calling in the broom brigade.

After getting off to a good start with the opening of the Next Step shelter in Kaka'ako, the state's efforts to intervene on behalf of O'ahu's homeless stalled, with few families being placed in public or low-income housing.

The problem, of course, is a shortage of affordable units, and it's made worse because many of them need basic or extensive repairs before they become livable again.

Compounding that problem is that the creaky wheels of bureaucracy need oiling so that the process of relocating families could move more quickly.

Finally, a blunder in lawmaking tied up a $10 million appropriation that could have been used on some of these repairs. Due to the way the bill was reworded in the final revisions, spending is authorized only for improvements to emergency shelters, not vacant public housing units.

Obviously, this irritating hurdle needs to be cleared in the early days of the coming legislative session. Some of the money should be spent immediately on repairs to transitional housing, but unspent money could lapse unless it's reauthorized. So the commitment to improving the inventory of housing in acceptable condition must be renewed, both by the state administration and elected lawmakers.

Fortunately, other sources of revenue are being tapped to make these repairs, so the state isn't falling behind on its repair schedule because of lack of funds. Additionally, the state has partnered with nonprofit groups that have volunteered in the less extensive cleanup and repair jobs so that families needing housing could move in more quickly. This can be useful, as a supplemental approach.

But there are other cogs in the machine that should be fixed. The Hawai'i Public Housing Authority is considering revising an administrative rule, for example, that gives potential tenants the right to hear three offers of housing before finally choosing one and moving off the waiting list. Under the proposed new rule, a tenant would need a compelling reason to reject the first offer.

To the state's public housing officials: That's a good start. Keep looking, please.