More than 6K Hawaii residents apply for housing assistance

HILO — A new state program providing $100 million of rental assistance to struggling tenants in Hawaii has received more than 6,000 applications.

Hawaii’s Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program began Sept. 8, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported Tuesday.

The program provides rental assistance to residents having difficulty making payments because of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The program is currently set up to provide assistance for rent payments between Aug. 1 and Dec. 28.

Denise Iseri-Matsubara, executive director of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation, said there have been more than 6,000 applicants and many more inquiries by phone and online.

“The new website has had over 80,000 hits since it was launched,” Iseri-Matsubara said.

The program processed some claims and disbursed funds within the first week of its existence.

The first phase of the program, a joint effort between the state, Aloha United Way and Catholic Charities of Hawaii, is budgeted for $50 million and will provide eligible renters with up to $1,500 per month in Maui, Kauai and Hawaii counties and up to $2,000 per month on Oahu.

The remaining $50 million will support the program’s second phase covering delinquent rent and mortgage payments back to March 1.

The program requires applicants to submit evidence their household income does not exceed the area median income determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Iseri-Matsubara said.

Nancy Cabral, owner of Day-Lum Rentals &Management Inc. in Hilo, said about 5% of her agency’s property owners have lowered rents to accommodate tenants whose incomes were reduced during the pandemic.

Some owners choose to lower rents rather than allowing tenants to stay at properties for months without paying because of a state moratorium on evicting tenants for nonpayment.

“It’s easier to get 80% of rent now than to have to fight to get 100% of rent later on,” Cabral said.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

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