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Bill seeks to stop housing discrimination

    In this September 2007 file photo, Micah Shiroma, 9, and "Uncle" Kaleo Perkins, 17, walked down Pupukahi Street in Waipahu. Perkins lives in the neighborhood which is composed largely of section 8 housing.

Affordable housing can be hard to find in Hawaii, and one lawmaker is trying to make it easier on families with Section 8 vouchers.

A quick search on Craigslist yields dozens of advertisements for apartments that state tenants who are part of the federal Section 8 housing voucher program are not eligible to apply.

“The market is so tight for people at the low end of the scale that a lot of times, the landlords, they just won’t even consider somebody from Section 8,” Democratic state Rep. Karl Rhoads said. “They don’t have to, because they have people stumbling all over each other just to get the few slots that are available.”

Rhoads introduced a bill to outlaw discrimination based on lawful income, aiming to stop landlords from turning down tenants who are part of the Section 8 voucher program.

The House Committee on Housing advanced the bill Monday.

The Hawaii Association of Realtors opposed the measure, saying it could interfere with a landlord’s ability to find financially qualified tenants. By prohibiting discrimination based on the source of income, landlords could be exposed to potential liability for engaging in normal business practices, the group said in written testimony.

The extra inspections and applications would be hard for smaller ‘mom-and-pop’ landlords to afford, and applications can take two months to approve, said Stathie Prattas, chairman of the government affairs committee for the Realtors.

“That means the landlord is going to be out of income for that rent,” Prattas said.

There are about 10,000 families on a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers or public housing in Hawaii, and the list for Section 8 vouchers alone is less than 1,000 families, according to Hakim Ouansafi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. The waiting list was closed in 2006, and no names have been added since that time, he said.

Once a family is approved for a Section 8 voucher, it often takes four to five months to find housing, Ouansafi said. There are currently about 140 approved people who are searching for housing, he said.

“There is a stigma that comes with Section 8. There is a lot of misunderstanding that the people who get Section 8 will ruin your place, and they will not take care of it and they’re a bunch of drunks,” Ouansafi said.

But applicants’ backgrounds are checked thoroughly before they’re approved for a voucher, he said. “These are plain and simple good folks that are having a hard time paying the rent.”

The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission supported the bill, saying there’s not enough housing on the market for people with Section 8 vouchers. Civil rights law currently prohibits landlords from discriminating against potential renters based on race, gender, age and other criteria, but not on the source of a person’s income, said William Hoshijo, executive director of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission.

“This is actually an important protection because it’s different in kind,” Hoshijo said. “It’s a class-based protection because it protects against discrimination against poor people.”

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