Housing relief needs long-range planning
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It's hard to think of a rational argument against investing state funds in a larger stock of affordable rental units. The burgeoning homeless population has made the need abundantly clear.
So low-income housing lobbyists found they didn't have to work very hard to persuade lawmakers to carve out $90 million to be spent over the next two years on giving these people a decent place to live.
The emphasis this time is on permanent dwellings, as opposed to emergency shelters. The state has made a welcome start, allotting money for apartment repairs, for helping develop new units and for growing the state's Rental Housing Trust Fund.
Also this year, the 857 units at Kukui Gardens were saved through legislation that financed the state purchase of part of the property and enabled an agreement with a nonprofit housing corporation to manage the units.
Even if the taxpayer accepts this as the best deal that could be struck under difficult time constraints, that doesn't mean the rest of the state's affordable rental deficiency should be solved through crisis management.
The state knows how many projects have federal subsidies that are expiring or have owners that want out of the low-income housing business. For example, the nonprofit running a 64-unit senior housing project in Kahuku wants to convert to market-rate rentals and may end its contract providing federal Section 8 subsidies.
It would make sense for the state to attract the larger housing nonprofit foundations, the ones with sizeable assets and greater financial stability. Increasing their role in developing low-income housing would add stability to the housing stock here, through the ups and downs of the market.
Faith Action for Community Equity has been working with one of these, Enterprise Community Partners, with the hope of enticing the nonprofit to open an office here and become a player in the local market.
That's encouraging, and it would be wise for state leaders to be part of that conversation, offering such groups ways to simplify the process of developing housing in our state. Working with well-capitalized groups such as Enterprise to help them see the seriousness of Hawai'i's housing problem could pay out a critical dividend for the state's working poor.