Hawaii Five-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh-Oh

weboy here… after a late night parking adventure in Allston/Brighton. 🙂

Since Red and I have been sharing a dialogue on public housing issues, I thought I’d post over here on an interesting article in today’s Wall Street Journal (the WSJ is by subscription, but I do provide links). Rafael Gerena-Morales reports:

Roughly 6,000 people in the state are without permanent shelter, according to Hawaii’s Homeless Programs Division. That’s nearly double the number without homes in 1999. Increasingly, this population consists of working families with children. Some, like the Wongs, live in city-run shelters. Others have taken up residence on the beach, turning Hawaii’s picturesque shores into homeless encampments where hundreds of people live in tents pitched on the sand.

One big factor behind Hawaii’s homelessness is the housing boom that swept across the U.S. Run-ups in home prices displaced families nationwide, but the problem in Hawaii — where land costs are more than five times the national average — is particularly acute.

Along with second home purchases that drove up land and housing prices, the state suffers from a lack of affordable housing… and how has HUD helped? Well, it hasn’t, exactly:

Mismanagement of the state’s limited public-housing stock has aggravated the situation. Hawaii has about 6,230 government-subsidized units. The state has complained that it lacks the resources to keep existing structures in good repair. In Honolulu, wood planks cover the windows of some vacant apartments. In all, roughly 700, or 11%, of the units are vacant, with almost half of those waiting to be renovated or demolished, according to the governor’s office.

“We’re focused on turning around vacant units and getting them operating so that we can house more people,” says Pamela Dodson, an executive assistant at the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.

Linda Smith, the governor’s senior policy adviser, says public-housing units fell into disrepair because federal housing subsidies declined as costs to operate the apartments were increasing. Initiatives to build other affordable rental units fell through, she says, after Hawaii’s state legislature took $212 million partly earmarked for low-interest construction loans and used the funds to pay other expenses, including salary increases for state workers.

HUD had Hawaii on its “Watch List” of problem Housing Authorities; according to the article, it came off last year. Lack of affordable housing, particularly in desirable areas, like the gentrifying urban scenes around the country, and resort hotspots like Hawaii (Las Vegas also comes to mind… and I was just guessing – but it took me all of 2 seconds to find that article), have the effect of pushing the issues around housing out to communities unfamiliar with the problem. As well, they are tied up with other issues around poverty and the fact that it’s quite possible that many needy people have simply “fallen off the grid” of tracking for poverty, homelessness and other needed services. With Democrats leading Congress, it’s likely these issues will come back into greater focus. The solutions, though, may be elusive. In Hawaii, for instance, the costs around construction labor and materials have risen dramatically with the rise of luxury home building. And with little interest from the Bush Administration and probably less interest from real estate and business, turning this around is a major challenge.



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