A Hawaii business coalition is seeking $100 million in federal coronavirus aid from the city to benefit commercial property landlords and tenants.
The group is pitching the program to city leaders as a way to help prevent a drain on city property tax revenue by providing grants to local businesses that can’t pay their rent to landlords because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Such grant money, under the plan, would be passed to landlords and help them pay property taxes.
Organizations involved in the effort include the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, Hawaii Restaurant Association, Retail Merchants of Hawaii, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, financial institutions and shopping center owners.
“These are unprecedented times and we really need unprecedented measures,” Cathy Camp, commercial real estate lending division manager for Central Pacific Bank, told a City Council committee earlier this month.
“We’re in survival mode,” added Todd Apo, senior vice president of community development for Ward Village owner Howard Hughes Corp., during the July 15 meeting of the Council’s Committee on Economic Assistance and Revitalization.
Proponents of the grant program have been working on the idea for more than two months, and recently published a survey of Hawaii businesses that quantifies the difficulty for business tenants to pay rent.
The survey of 1,234 businesses statewide was produced with the help of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
It showed that from April through June, 10% of businesses in the survey paid no rent while 25% paid partial rent to landlords.
Total unpaid rent by this cohort of 432 businesses amounted to an estimated $59 million, the survey said.
Ryan Tanaka, president of local financial consulting firm Island Business Management LLC, which helped produce the survey, characterized the delinquency as a “staggering number” given that the survey is a sample of 4% of all Hawaii businesses.
“Many businesses will need help reducing expenses to survive,” he told the Council committee.
The survey said 91% of businesses reported receiving federal aid through the Paycheck Protection Program or another U.S. Small Business Administration program. At the same time, 38% reported receiving a city small-business grant, and 22% received a bank loan deferral.
Still, Tanaka said rent delinquencies show that the aid so far hasn’t been enough.
According to the survey, 45% percent of businesses expect to miss rent payments through the end of the year, with about half this group expecting to not pay four to six months of rent.
The survey was produced before Hawaii’s spike in COVID-19 cases, and Tanaka said future business rent delinquencies are expected to be worse than the survey suggests because of the rise in cases and new government restrictions on businesses operating.
“The situation is definitely worse,” he said Tuesday.
About 38% of businesses in the survey reported receiving a break on rent from landlords, which included 9% receiving a rent reduction and 28% having rent deferred for future repayment.
The survey said landlords are under pressure to collect rents from tenants, in part to pay property taxes, and that rent relief is necessary for many businesses to avoid permanent closure.
The report also said that the number of businesses in Hawaii fell by 1,600 during the 2008 recession and that the current economic downturn could result in the loss of more than 5,000 local businesses, eliminating jobs and reducing tax revenue.
“Without additional funding, there will be severe damage to our economy,” the report said.
Under the proposed aid program, landlords could apply for grants from the city on behalf of multiple tenants demonstrating rent hardships. Such tenants would have to be local businesses, so national retailers could not participate.
Landlords would also be required to reduce rent for participating tenants, and these tenants would receive grant proceeds directly from the city that they pass along to landlords through rent.
The size of such grants would be limited to a landlord’s annual property tax obligation.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell could not be reached Tuesday for comment on the proposal.
The city received $387 million via the $2.2 trillion federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security package passed by Congress in March.
Of this CARES Act money, about $130 million is paying for city first-responder costs, and $50 million is being used to provide grants up to $10,000 for Oahu businesses with no more than 30 employees or $1 million in annual revenue and a commercial address. Another $25 million to $50 million was aimed at giving the neediest Oahu residents up to $1,500 a month to pay household and child care expenses for up to six months.
The balance has been earmarked but is potentially available for the rent relief proposal, according to Tanaka.