KALAHEO – David Sigala, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War era, was homeless for about seven months before he found a home in Kalaheo last November.
“It would be impossible to get this place because the amount of money I get is about the same as the rent of this place is,” Sigala said. “When you can only afford $300-$400 per month to live someplace, it’s impossible almost.”
But after applying to dozens of homes and driving hundreds of miles in his van, Sigala was able to secure a spacious one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment and has been living happily for nearly a year.
Sigala is part of the Section 8 Rental Assistance program, a federal program that allows low-income qualified families and individuals to pay 30-40 percent of their total monthly income to rental units.
Sigala pays $312 per month while the federal government pays the remaining difference of his $1,050 rental apartment.
Kanani Fu, County of Kauai housing director, said the county averages about 620 applicants who qualify for vouchers every year for the past four years. Currently, there are 607 applicants who qualified for housing vouchers.
“There’s a rental assistance that we provide which is a monthly voucher to subsidize rental and the other part of the program is the family self-sufficiency program, which takes the participants in the rental assistance program and tries to give them life skills and financial literacy to improve their economical wealth so they can come off of the system,” Fu said.
An enrollment period ended on Aug. 12.
Fu said anywhere between 1,200 and 2,000 applications are currently being processed.
“This program brings in about $6.2 million every year. It’s generating income for landlords as well as rental complexes,” Fu said. “It’s a really beneficial program not just for our residences who need suitable safe housing, but also for our economy.”
She added: “We rely on our public, our landlords as a way of receiving their rental income. When they do that, they assist more families.”
The Section 8 program, for the rental subsidies, provides for those who earn 60 percent of the area median income and below.
For instance, for a one-person family to qualify for a voucher, he or she would need to generate between $17,250 to $28,700 a year in order to qualify for a voucher.
“If they don’t find housing within the 90 days (of receiving their voucher), we grant extensions based on scenarios,” Fu said. “Or if they give up their voucher, we pass it out on to someone else.”
Fu said anyone from the United States may apply, but Kauai residents have first preference.
“When we do the waitlist, we first sift out Kauai residents and we lottery them,” she said. “When we go through our list of all Kauai residents, then we move on to our all-other applicants list.”
The downside for applicants, however, is the island’s low supply of housing units.
“For every four vouchers we give out, only 40 percent is able to use their voucher and find housing Fu said. “That is low for us. We want to see a lease-up rate of 80 percent.”
If the island had a larger supply of housing, the county could potentially give out 540 more vouchers, in addition to the current 607.
“Tenants are looking at criminal background and credit history. Some of that contribute to the low lease-up rate,” she said. “I would say a very large part is because of our low supply of housing units.”
For Sigala, he said hopes to live in his Kalaheo apartment for the rest of his life.
“I only have two rules at my place: don’t make a lot of noise and pay the rent on time,”he said. “I can do those. If this program didn’t exist, I would be out of luck. That’s all there is to it.”