Gov. David Ige this month likely will issue his sixth homeless-related emergency proclamation expediting projects across the state by setting aside normal bidding rules.
Collectively, the proclamations have streamlined the process of getting more financial help into the hands of needy homeless families to find — or stay in — long-term housing while speeding up construction of projects intended to reduce the state’s homeless population.
Signing another proclamation would address the concerns of impatient residents and tourists who are frustrated with the state’s high rate of homelessness. Ige, however, runs the risk of establishing a new standard in which union rights and procurement rules are no longer factors, according to Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political science associate professor and director of UH’s Public Policy Center.
“I understand the administration’s position, and what they’re trying to do is laudable to work on this problem and put in place some solutions in an expeditious way,” Moore said. “But we should be clear that this is not what the governor’s emergency proclamation powers are designed to do, that … the only way to solve a problem in a reasonable amount of time is to pass an emergency proclamation. It is very troubling to me, and it should be to everyone, that our state government is simply incapable of handling these problems in any sort of reasonable time frame.”
The emergency proclamations allow Ige’s administration to waive union labor contracts. But Scott Morishige, the state’s homeless coordinator, said none of the 13 homeless-related projects that have benefited from the proclamations bypassed labor agreements.
Seven of the nine homeless projects that require construction are on Oahu.
Six of them are being developed through the city and county from Makiki to the Leeward Coast. The latest homeless construction project — converting a Kakaako maintenance shed into Oahu’s newest homeless shelter for families — is being done by the state and is scheduled to open in late September.
While highlighting the speed at which the projects are moving, Morishige said Ige’s administration “wants to look carefully” at extending the current, 60-day emergency proclamation “to make sure we utilize the emergency proclamation only when it’s necessary and only when it’s directly related to the issue of homelessness.”
Ige issued his first emergency homeless proclamation in October 2015.
Overall, Morishige said, the proclamations have allowed state and county officials “to be nimble and flexible.”
Since taking office in 2014, Ige and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui have signed 10 emergency proclamations, and half have been aimed at natural disasters: the Puna lava flow (signed March 2015); Tropical Depression C3, which became Hurricane Kilo (August 2015); disaster relief for Hurricane Ignacio (August 2015); mosquito-borne illnesses (February); and Tropical Storm Darby (July).
Moore has no issue with emergency proclamations that address unanticipated emergencies.
They should be issued sparingly “to deal with true emergencies that are caused by natural disasters, not complex social problems like homelessness,” Moore said.
Homelessness is hardly new in the islands, and Moore worries that responding by issuing emergency proclamations will become “the new normal.”
He also worries that Ige’s successor will look back at his use of emergency proclamations, “and they will become a standard tool. The justification will be that Ige set the precedent. That’s very likely to happen.”
In the meantime Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration has said that several homeless-related projects helped by Ige’s proclamations will open years ahead of the usual schedule.
They include recently announced projects that did not have to undergo the months-long process of putting construction projects out to bid, where they are then scrutinized through a selection process before the work can begin.
Instead, Caldwell has been announcing a series of city-related construction projects that have been helped by the proclamations. They include concepts that have never been tried in the islands, such as a four-story warehouse in Iwilei that the city bought and plans to use to shower, assist and house the homeless through the largest so-called “navigation center” of its kind in the islands.
Moore sees how the proclamations are helping homeless-related ideas become reality faster than normal across Oahu.
But he worries that practices ushered in during a time of a declared “emergency” could chip away at long-standing policies designed to bring openness to government.
“There’s a reason we have these rules in place, because they were created to solve problems of having fair bids and favoritism,” Moore said. “By trying to get around the difficulties of bids and procurement, we might be creating another problem and setting a dangerous precedent.”