Gov. David Ige’s plans to address Hawaii’s homelessness crisis and affordable-housing shortage are competing for funding with other priorities in the Legislature, and some advocates are concerned that lawmakers are not setting aside enough money to solve those pressing problems.
The state budget passed by the House reduced the amount of money Ige wants to spend for affordable-housing development, prompting concern about the Legislature’s commitment to making a dent in the decades-old problem. The Senate Ways and Means Committee will make its own changes when it takes up the budget Tuesday.
“With the extreme crisis in homelessness and affordable housing, we feel that the funding at the level the governor requested is almost the minimum that should be allocated,” said the Rev. Bob Nakata, a former state legislator pushing for progress on those issues.
The House rejected several budget items on homelessness programs, including $2 million for homeless outreach services, $3 million for the Housing First program that helps long-term homeless people, and $2 million to help people with up to three months of rental subsidies.
Bills are moving separately through the Legislature for several of the homelessness programs Ige suggested, and the dollar amounts attached to them will be decided closer to the end of the session, said Rep. Sylvia Luke, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee. Plus, there were many competing requests for funding, she said.
“A lot of the legislative leaders, they have needs in their communities which are really about improving infrastructure for the classroom, and a lot of the repairs that have been backlogged in their school systems,” Luke said.
Taking the homelessness programs out of the budget allows for more substantive discussion in committees that deal with social services. But it also indicates that those programs might not become part of the state’s budget plan.
“The importance of having them in the budget is really because it shows a commitment, a long-term commitment, by our government to maintain these programs,” said Scott Fuji, executive director of PHOCUSED, a nonprofit that serves the state’s most needy.
“Having them in these appropriation bills that are year-to-year gives a sense of frailty to our system, that we’re not taking these needs of our community seriously,” he said.
Ige asked for $75 million in bonds for the rental housing revolving fund, which gives low-interest loans to developers for construction of affordable rentals. The House reduced it to $25 million.
House members also cut Ige’s suggested $25 million to $12.5 million for the dwelling unit revolving fund, a similar program aimed at developing affordable homes for purchase. Again, Luke said those amounts could be boosted with separate bills.
Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, said in a statement that although the funding amounts have not been decided, he is hopeful lawmakers will advance those bills, which will provide the right services to address homelessness statewide.
Aside from the budget, a bill moving swiftly through the Legislature sets a goal of developing at least 22,500 affordable rental housing units over the next 10 years. Senate Bill 2561 was introduced by Jill Tokuda, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
“Although it’s just a plan, we’re concerned that without the funding that I talked about, it may be like several other plans in the past and end up just sitting on the shelf,” said Nakata, the pastor.