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Gov. David Ige to extend ban on housing evictions as Hawaii’s economic devastation continues

A ban on housing evictions across Hawaii will be extended through the end of August as a result of the growing COVID-19 pandemic and its on-going economic devastation across the islands.

Gov. David Ige plans to extend his original April ban on evictions when he is scheduled to sign his 10th supplemental emergency proclamation on COVID-19 today.

“We have heard from many on the impact the pandemic has had on the individual ability to pay rent,” Ige said Monday.

The ban only applies to evictions for nonpayment — and not for other issues. Barring other changes, renters eventually will have to repay all of their overdue rental costs.

Failure to comply with Ige’s proclamation orders are misdemeanor violations with maximum penalties of a year in jail and $5,000 fine.

The extension is intended to postpone evictions at least until Congress decides whether to fund another round of COVID-19-related financial assistance to Hawaii and other states. The federal funding currently includes an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits for thousands of newly unemployed and furloughed island workers. The weekly federal benefit runs out at the end of July.

The state Legislature passed a bill that would kick in $100 worth of weekly unemployment benefits from the state between Aug. 1 and Dec. 30 after the $600 federal government payments expire.

While the cost to the state is estimated at $230 million for the new $100 weekly benefits, the overall result means a $500 per week gross loss — or $2,000 per month — for each beneficiary once the federal money dries up.

The state’s plan for an additional $100 per week is aimed at an estimated 117,000 idled workers.

U.S. Rep. Ed Case told the House Select Committee on COVID-19 Economic and Financial Preparedness on Monday that a second- round of COVID-19-related federal funding for Hawaii and the rest of the nation passed the House in mid-May but continues “languishing in the Senate for almost two months.”

The so-called HEROES Act would provide another round of funding for small businesses, “direct stimulus payments” to individuals and a replacement for weekly federal unemployment benefits “that are about to run out,” Case said.

Even if the U.S. Senate agrees with the House to extend the benefits, Case said he has little hope that the federal unemployment benefits would be at current levels.

The drop in weekly, overall unemployment benefits “creates an immediate fiscal cliff” for current and future recipients, Case said. “That creates a period where it’s going to get really, really rough.”

Both income security and housing security already have been rising across the islands and the rest of the nation.

A recent survey showed that 30% of Hawaii residents — or close to 250,000 people — either have missed a rental or mortgage payment “or have little confidence they can make a housing payment,” said Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization and a member of the House Select Committee on COVID-19.

“The solution to all of this has to come from the federal government,” Bonham told his fellow committee members.

“When the weekly $600 unemployment payments run out at the end of July, thousands of island families are likely to fall off an economic cliff,” Bonham said.

“We just don’t know what the magnitude will be,” he said.

And the problem will only get worse when idled workers eventually run out of their state unemployment benefits, Bonham said.

Already, small businesses are closing with little fanfare or notice, said Tina Yamaki, president of the Retail Merchants of Hawaii, who is also a member of the committee.

She said small businesses are “slowly and quietly dying.”

“When the PPP (federal Paycheck Protection Program) loans ended this past month, a lot of my members laid off between 75 to 80% of their employees, especially if they were directly impacted by tourism with the customers not coming in,” Yamaki said.

Untold numbers of small businesses are “holding off” for the return of tourism, hoping to see a rebound by the end of the year or in early 2021.

In the meantime, “we’re taking a big hit again,” Yamaki said. “You’re going to see a lot more stores folding that can’t stay open as long.”

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