WAILUA — David Sigala is a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War era. He’s also been homeless since March.
A tight housing market combined with a $993 housing voucher has made looking for a home nearly impossible for the 71-year-old man.
“Every day it’s like a job trying to find a place,” he said. “If you’re lucky enough to find a place as low as $1,100, it’s going to be snatched up because there’s such a market. That price does pop up, but it disappears.”
Before becoming homelessness, Sigala lived in a Koloa duplex for three years. When the owner of the unit became ill, Sigala was forced to move out.
He thought the transition was going to be smooth.
“I didn’t know what was happening in the market,” Sigala said. “I expected that I would have a little bit of a transition time and have a new place by the end of the month.”
Four months later, he’s living in his car and still looking for a home.
Sigala’s housing voucher — the Department of Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing or HUD-VASH — allows him to rent a unit $993 or less. His portion of the unit is 30 percent of his total income, which is just over $1,000.
“I went down and got my voucher for $933 from Kauai Housing, and I knew you can’t rent a place with that kind of money,” he said.
Sigala said he doesn’t understand why his voucher is almost $300 less than the previous year.
Kamuela Cobb-Adams, Kauai County housing director, said the county doesn’t set the voucher price, but the standard is set at the federal level and fluctuates based on a fluctuating market.
So if the market drops, so too should the vouchers.
“The rental standard is not set by the Kauai County Housing Agency,” he said in an email. “The standard is set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development using a complex procedure and we must follow it.”
Cobb-Adams said it’s difficult for the agency to find homes for people in situations similar to Sigala.
“The Housing Agency is doing everything within our control to help individuals and families with Section 8 vouchers to find a decent and affordable place to live,” he said. “But it has been challenging as the number of available rental units on Kauai has not kept up with the demand, thus rents have been inflated, and HUD’s methodology doesn’t seem to have accounted for this.”
Cobb-Adams said the agency referred Sigala to Kanikoo, a senior housing complex in Lihue. Monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment, 606 square feet, is $680.
He applied — reluctantly.
“The whole thing about HUD was to preserve the dignity of returning soldiers — not to put them in government housing,” he said.
Officials from Kanikoo said Sigala is seventh on a waiting list.
Desperate to find a place to live, Sigala turned to U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) for help.
“This time is so much easier for me because I have some hope,” he said. “The other time I went homeless was when I fell off a roof over on the Big Island. I wasn’t able to do anything.”
Walt Kaneakua, district director for Gabbard, said her team in Hawaii is working closely with Sigala, determining what services are available to him, and collaborating with available support programs and case management teams.
“I’m optimistic that by working together, we will find housing options to offer Mr. Sigala,” Kaneakua said.
Debra de Luis, Catholic Charities Kauai community office director, said veterans like Sigala may qualify for a Veterans Affairs-supported program through Catholic Charities to help them find housing.