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Affordable housing advocates call for action on homelessness

    Affordable housing advocates rallied outside Honolulu City Hall on Tuesday to ask officials to make affordable housing a top priority.

A group of local affordable housing advocates is calling on city and state leaders to take action on homelessness.

They rallied outside Honolulu Hale asking officials to create concrete goals and monetary commitments to provide more affordable housing on Tuesday, the day before the Honolulu City Council was scheduled to vote to expand the ban on sitting and lying down on sidewalks.

Demonstrators spoke about the need to develop more housing for the growing number of homeless people living on the streets.

"It’s sad to see when they’re working and they can’t afford to put a roof over their heads," said Arlene Young, a retiree and member of St. Elizabeth’s Episcopal Church.

Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine, who voted against the initial sit-lie ban and its subsequent expansions, said she is deeply concerned about the policy, adding that in other cities where similar policies have been adopted, the problem of homelessness has not been solved.

"As a Hawaii resident who has been taught love and aloha and compassion for our people, I felt this is not us," Pine said. "This is not how we treat those that are suffering the most in our community."

The group Housing Now, a coalition of organizations that advocate for affordable housing, organized the rally. The group drafted a letter to city and state leaders urging them to stop clearing encampments and expanding sit-lie bans.

Housing Now also asked for a timeline for the state to provide affordable housing for all residents. It suggested goals such as allowing accessory dwelling units for homes, preventing conversions of residential housing into vacation rentals and setting aside money annually for affordable housing development and repairs of public housing.

Kauai Council Member Gary Hooser, who attended the rally, said he plans to introduce legislation on his island to allow additional dwelling units to be added to homes, as long as they are not used for short-term vacation rentals. The sit-lie bans may make homeless people uncomfortable, but "the people we need to make uncomfortable are people like myself, politicians," Hooser said.

"When politicians, legislators and council members tell you that there’s no money … what they’re really saying is it’s not a priority," Hooser said. "That’s what they’re saying. And we need to make it a priority around our state."

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