LIHU’E — Philip Garboden is alarmed by two concerning trends related to rental delinquencies throughout the state of Hawai‘i.
Garboden, who is the University of Hawai‘i Economic Research Organization professor in affordable housing economics, policy and planning in the UH Department of Urban and Regional Planning, recently published a survey finding a 10% increase in rent delinquencies and a 5% increase in vacant units.
“What’s most alarming to me right now is Jan. 1, when the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security money expires, there is still a lot of work to be done on getting rent relief to all of the people who need it,” Garboden said. “There are currently 18,000 households that are delinquent, and that doesn’t even cover the people who are current on their rent but have exhausted their savings. At least we have the funds to keep people in their homes, and that is probably just around $150 million in, if you include state and county programs.”
On Oct. 2, the Kaua‘i County Housing Agency announced rent-relief and housing-assistance programs for renters and homeowners who experienced reductions in incomes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, for those who are at risk for eviction or foreclosure.
This funding was provided by the federal CARES Act and administered on Kaua‘i by Catholic Charities in Hawai‘i.
Applications are being accepted from through Dec. 15.
“To date, evictions for non-payment of rent have been held in abeyance by the governor’s emergency proclamation and the fact that the court system is effectively refraining from processing or enforcing evictions,” CHA Director Adam Roversi said. “It is our hope that both renters and homeowners take advantage now of the significant funding available for both rental and mortgage assistance so that when the statewide eviction moratorium ends and the court system reverts to normal operations we do not have a significant number of people with lingering payment delinquencies that would give rise to either eviction of foreclosure.”
At present, there is no additional CARES Act funding allocated to assist renters.
“Hopefully, the rent-relief programs (state and county) will help with the first problem until Jan. 1,” Garboden said. “The second, however, doesn’t have a policy in place to address it. It’s important to note, of course, that our sample was modest. Hopefully, things will clarify as we collect more waves.”
Roversi said he felt if the CARES Act expires in December it could create hardships for tenants moving into 2021.
“If federal CARES Act assistance truly expires in December, no additional federal assistance is forthcoming, and the economy is unable to reopen in any significant way, we fear that there may be a significant increase in both evictions and foreclosures in the first half of 2021,” Roversi said. “All we know at this time is that the state and counties currently face a December 2020 deadline to expend all CARES Act funds, and we as the County of Kaua‘i continue to work diligently to meet that deadline.”
According to Roversi, the county has seen a 50% increase in county housing loan program delinquencies.
“Notably, there were far fewer opportunities for mortgage assistance than for rental assistance until the state’s CARES Act mortgage-assistance program went into effect in late September,” Roversi said. “We hope that these mortgage-delinquency numbers will drop now that this assistance is available.”
Rentals harder to track
Unlike homeowners who are required to file official paperwork with the state regarding their mortgages, rental properties vary greatly in their diversity.
“It is very difficult because there is no single repository for data on the rental market, unlike home ownership where you can get data on all sales and mortgages,” Garboden said. “We have some data from the census, but that’s a year lag. And, as always, there are parts of the market that this data don’t see.”
Many rental agreements are under the table or underreported and unaccounted for, according to Garboden. The advent of the internet exchanges between tenants and landlords in the last 25 years has made transactions for rental units even more difficult to tabulate.
In UHERO’s recent sample, landlords said about 2% of families were 60-plus days delinquent on a normal pre-COVID,” and this previous month, the statistical metric increased to 5% of families that haven’t paid by Sept. 15.
The state has about 1,700 formal evictions each year, which aligns with other data seen in terms of monthly evictions pre-COVID.
According to Garboden, eviction is harder to quantify because renters do what they can in their power to avoid it.
There are still a significant amount of improvements that need to be done in order to obtain more concrete data regarding evictions.
“Lots of families walk away before being evicted. Some take “cash for keys,” Garboden said. “We desperately need to invest in a good data infrastructure. Things like our survey are useful, but getting good coverage of hard-to-reach populations takes both time and money.”
Just as it is hard to quantify those who get evicted, it is also difficult to measure people who are in a transient phase between homelessness and eviction.
“There is a gap between eviction and homelessness, and we just don’t have the data to know what options people have if they lose their housing,” Garboden said. “With the UI (unemployment insurance) plus up, the rent relief and the moratorium, we wouldn’t expect to see big jumps until Jan. 1. After that, it’s hard to envision a system where it doesn’t matter.”
“We encourage anyone facing financial hardship to seek rental and mortgage assistance while it is available,” Roversi said. “These funds are first-come-first-served. Folks cannot get help if they do not bother to apply.”
Anyone interested in obtaining more information on rental assistance, renters and homeowners can go to hihousinghelp.com.
Jason Blasco, reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.