There is now a heightened sense of urgency to address the issues of homelessness and the actual creation of affordable rental housing.
These issues, which have been at crisis levels for decades, have been brought to a boil by recent developments around the de facto tent city in Kakaako, which has undergone rapid growth with the instituting of sit-lie laws that pushed the homeless out of Waikiki and Chinatown into other areas, particularly, Kakaako and Kapalama.
The altercation between state Rep. Tom Brower and some homeless teens in Kakaako catapulted the issue of the encampment in Kakaako front and center on all media outlets for weeks. The mayor, the governor, Legislature and City Council leaders now are all engaged.
In this crisis mode, the city’s project on Sand Island for the chronically homeless will move forward, and very likely the Kakaako encampment will be scattered to other locations.
These encampments should have sanitary facilities and security, possibly with the police helping to create security watches, with resident participation in establishing rules of conduct.
However, these temporary measures must be temporary. The Weinberg Villages of 20 years ago were not followed up with permanent affordable rentals.
The transitional shelter Next Step and the shelter in Waianae were created 10 years ago, but a sustained effort to build affordable rentals has not occurred, despite concerted efforts by affordable housing advocates like FACE (Faith Action for Community Equity), Partners in Care and Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.
Kakaako is producing far more luxury condominiums than affordable rentals. The slow pace of implementing the rail system has in turn slowed transit-oriented development, which many of us hoped would help speed the development of affordable housing. Reduced funding for public housing repair and maintenance is also a problem.
The good news is that the governor agreed to extend the general excise tax surcharge to complete the first 20-mile rail segment, and the City Council appears ready to approve the extension. Both the city and state have identified the parcels they own along the rail route and both the Legislature and City Council have allocated more funds than ever for affordable rental housing.
Now is the time to ramp up efforts to produce significant numbers of affordable rental housing.
Fortunately, the mayor laid out his “Housing Oahu: Islandwide Housing Strategy” in September 2014 and the City Council has allocated $32 million a year for fiscal years 2015 and 2016. Unfortunately, political infighting has prevented efficient use of the funds.
The governor has identified housing as a top priority, which gives hope that he will call “all hands on deck” to give momentum to the creation of affordable rentals.
Another hopeful sign is the City Council’s effort to expand the ohana zoning program so that non-relatives can rent additional units on lots that are large enough and do not have infrastructure problems. There is a Council hearing on Bill 20 on Thursday.
While we must do short-term fixes for the homeless, we must not again forget the longer fixes that will truly address the need for affordable rentals, which everyone acknowledges is a crucial part of the solution to homelessness. Crisis creates opportunity. Both the state and city should issue requests for proposals for their properties for affordable rental projects as soon as possible.
New York Times columnist Joe Nocera is off today.