Affordable rentals key, Wai'anae homeless say
|Video: Wai'anae homeless, workers tell their stories|
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|Reader polls: What do you think is the primary cause for the homeless problem on the Wai'anae Coast, and what would be the most effective first steps to take to solve it?|
|||Many help, but needs are just so great|
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If you ask the people on the Wai'anae Coast beaches what the government can do to solve the homeless crisis, their answers invariably focus on one thing.
Fix that, they say, and you fix a big part of why hundreds of people are living in beach encampments along the 16-mile stretch from Nanakuli to Ka'ena Point.
Gov. Linda Lingle is developing a package of proposals to submit to the Legislature in January to not only deal with the homeless crisis but to lay the foundation for revitalizing the area economically.
Coast residents say that unless the government addresses the widespread poverty at the root of the homeless problem and other social ills, lasting change won't happen.
To craft her strategy, Lingle is relying on the community to tell her what they they think will work best in the short- and long-term.
The beach dwellers say help with rent will do the trick, either by supplying more affordable rentals or providing financial assistance so they can afford the rising rents.
But they remain skeptical on whether the government can deliver on that goal in a timely fashion. Or they wonder whether the recent flurry of attention by politicians will fade after the November election.
"We've been having people running for office and everything, saying, 'Give me one more year, and we're going to make houses, give me one more year, we're going to do this,' " said Alice Kaholo Greenwood, who has been homeless since July. "The time is up."
"I think the government should re-evaluate a lot of things," added Zalei Kamaile, who has been on the beach since late June. "They don't have any laws against rental, how high it goes. There are people out here who have money to pay for rent, but it's too expensive.
"I know a woman with 10 kids and she can't even find a place, and her and her husband have two jobs each. And I know a person who drives a school bus. She was here last week with her bus parked out here. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't understand it, that these people who work and struggle to survive still can't have something over their heads for their kids and themselves. It's inexcusable."
SECTION 8 SCREENING
Caroline Soaladaob, her husband and their nine children had been homeless since August, but they received housing at a state shelter last week. (See story, Page A6.) Before Soaladaob got housing, she said the government needs to rethink how it screens people for transitional shelters and how it decides who gets monthly rental assistance, called Section 8.
"I've been denied transitional shelter just based on the fact that I have too many kids," Soaladaob said before they moved. "And if I can't get into a transitional shelter, how am I supposed to get a regular house on what I have?"
She said the government should do a better job of screening people for Section 8 assistance because of people who get it but don't really need it. Soaladaob had been among the thousands of applicants waiting for such help — a wait that can last years.
"There has to be some kind of better setup to say, 'Hey, we're going to screen all you guys,' " she said. "You need to take these classes, you need to take budgeting, you need to take drug testing to make sure you're not abusing, you need to take parenting, whatever it is. Then the people who really don't want to do that and don't follow the rules, then they don't get the housing. That way us people who really are trying hard, we can get in."
Roxanne Bustamante's family of 11 became homeless about 10 months ago and finally got housing at the Kalaeloa transitional shelter last week. She says building more affordable rentals for working parents is the key to solving the crisis.
"I don't belong out here," Bustamante said before moving off the beach. "I belong in a house. But the income I'm making (working for Pizza Hut) doesn't provide enough for me to pay rent, for me to pay bills and whatnot. What I'm making is what we survive (on)."
LEGISLATION ON DECK
While much of Lingle's legislative package still is a work in progress, two pieces that weren't passed by the Legislature last session are expected to be proposed again as part of the package.
One would make permanent the extra funding mechanism boosting a state trust fund dedicated to developing more affordable rentals. Currently, 50 percent of the proceeds from the conveyance tax on real estate transactions goes into the trust fund, but that temporary arrangement — up from the 30 percent set by statute — lapses in July 2007.
Lingle last session proposed making the change permanent and raising the level to 65 percent, which would add an estimated $12 million to $18 million annually to the trust fund over what it would get at the 30 percent level. The Legislature didn't pass the measure.
The governor also plans to propose that a rent supplement program, which provides a maximum of $160 per month to people at risk of becoming homeless, be amended to eliminate the cap and give the Hawaii Public Housing Authority the flexibility to determine such limits. The $160 cap hasn't changed since 1988.
In addition to eliminating the cap, Lingle sought to broaden who is eligible to receive the assistance, believing the income guidelines were too restrictive. An eligible individual or family can earn no more than 50 percent of the area median income. For a single person, the maximum earnings would be roughly $25,000.
Because of those restrictions and other factors, the state usually is unable to use all the funding for the program each year — even as people are heading to the beach because they can't afford rising rents. In fiscal year 2005, the state returned more than $285,000 — about 25 percent of the program's allocation — to the general fund because it went unused, according to Linda Smith, senior policy adviser to the governor.
Rep. Michael Kahikina, chairman of the House housing committee, said the two measures didn't pass because of budgetary concerns and because of competing interests for funding.
But Kahikina (D-Nanakuli, Honokai Hale) said he supports both proposals and will push for passage in the coming session.
The Lingle administration expects to have at least one community meeting along the coast to discuss ideas for the governor's legislative package.
But whether she can get consensus among coast residents on the most effective ways to clear the beaches and revitalize a weak economy, with one of the state's highest community jobless rates, remains unclear.
Some residents, for instance, are pushing for more middle-income housing to create the sufficient population base and demographics to attract more businesses and jobs. But others insist that Wai'anae remain country and that any new economic development be entrepreneurial in nature, linked to cultural values important to the region.
LACK OF COORDINATION
Even current efforts to help the homeless generate debate, with some in the community citing a lack of coordination among the many organizations offering assistance.
"Right now, they're all going in their own direction," said James Manaku, 60, longtime resident and chairman of the Wai'anae Coast Neighborhood Board's housing committee. "And by doing that, personally, I think they're doing more harm than good."
Services get duplicated, one group counteracts another and the system is easily exploited by desperate homeless people who figure out how to take advantage of the confusion, Manaku said.
A letter signed by hundreds of Wai'anae-area residents and delivered to the governor recently urged her and other political leaders to treat the homeless crisis as an islandwide and statewide issue, requiring other communities to participate with Wai'anae in the solutions.
While the best ways to tackle the crisis may spark debate, everyone agrees that providing more rental help is a given, critical to getting people off the beaches and into permanent housing.
"We need to help our people," said Greenwood, who became homeless after her rental home was sold. "We're not the rich and famous. We just want to get by. We want to make sure we can live comfortably in a house — not with $2,000 rents."