With the end date for the housing (eviction) moratorium looming on Aug. 6, we as a community will be facing more families on the streets.
This is an urgent situation that needs to be addressed, and must include the cooperation of the county, state, Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and nonprofits.
We as a community must come up with solutions. We have many people working towards the same goal, but we need to be united in this cause.
We have a Facebook group called “Healing Kaua‘i’s Houseless and Community Needs,” spearheaded by Meghan Kealoha Matsuda, that has been reaching out and receiving much input from the citizens of Kaua‘i. We also have a working group of professionals mainly from the nonprofit sector. Please reach out if you would like to be included in the discussion.
Thursday, July 15, HAPA (Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action) presented a live Zoom forum to discuss these issues. Included in the panel was state Rep. Amy Perruso, tenant-advocate Attorney Deja Ostrowski, University of Hawai‘i lecturer Tina Grandinetti and state Land Use Commissioner Jonathan Scheuer.
The discussion was very enlightening, and they had many suggestions of areas to improve upon. The Mediation Center of the Pacific will offer free services on O‘ahu to renters that are four months or more behind on rental payments. Others will follow in priority. Kaua‘i Economic Opportunity will be working out details for the mediation center here on Kaua‘i.
Some of the suggestions made by the panel were: the need for stronger tenant protections; the need for an extension of the 15-day notice of eviction to 120 days; eviction expungement from records; and the need for any cause of eviction to be given.
Going forward, the sale of properties in Hawai‘i needs to be addressed. We cannot under the U.S. Constitution limit sales. Currently, 25% of all sales are to out-of-state investors on O‘ahu, and I believe that number is much higher on Kaua‘i. Some 52% of all vacation-rental units in Hawai‘i are owned by out-of-state investors. Legislation to leverage fees on the vacancy of units being held by investors was shot down in this last session of the state Legislature.
Caps on rental prices must be a priority, as they are already out of control on all of our islands. Other solutions would be to enforce the laws that are already in place for developers to pay FINES when they have not completed the affordable housing as promised. On O‘ahu, 20,000 units have NOT been completed as promised. This revenue could be used to develop infrastructure for more housing.
The overwhelming sentiment of the panel was to open up the DHHL lands to the Hawaiian people who are on waiting lists. Currently, on O‘ahu, 20% of the houseless community are DHHL beneficiaries, and I imagine that is the same for the outer islands.
Many kupuna on Kaua‘i who are houseless are 50% blood-quantum beneficiaries. A full 14% of all houseless on Kaua‘i are kupuna. It is CRIMINAL that they do not have a piece of land to live on, while 99-year leases are given out for $1 to the highest bidder behind the scenes.
We need to work from the bottom up to prioritize the DHHL beneficiaries, starting with the houseless. Pressure must be put on the government to fund these efforts. In turn, while lifting up all of the beneficiaries into land and housing, other resources could be utilized for the rest of the community as more affordable housing could become available.
Barbara Penn is a resident of Wailua.