Addressing Homelessness: New Approaches to Affordable Housing in Hawai`i

The Hawai`i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice has recently completed the attached report entitled “Addressing Homelessness: New Approaches to Affordable Housing in Hawai`i”. Click here to read the report in color and here for black and white.

Over the past several years, we have seen the crisis of homelessness expand at an alarming rate throughout all of the islands. Today, Hawai`i has the third highest homelessness rate among the states and the numbers of those living on our streets and beaches continues to grow. There is little disagreement on one of the root causes of this crisis: truly affordable transitional and permanent housing is in very short supply. Even in the best of economic times, thousands of our low income individuals and families struggled to find affordable shelter. The recession has made their struggle even more difficult.

A careful look at the economics of shelter in Hawai`i underlines the barriers we confront in solving our homelessness crisis. Traditionally, families have been advised not to spend more than 30% of their income on shelter. The fair market rent for a two-bedroom home in our state is $1,616, while the mean average wage for a renter in Hawai`i is $13.65 an hour. At this rate of pay, a single wage earner would have to work 91 hours weekly, or 2.3 wage earners would have to work 40 hours per week to afford the home. Hawai`i rents exceed the national average by 200%, and 75.4% of poor households in Hawai`i spend more than 50% of their income on shelter.

Unless we can find a way to produce a sufficient supply of truly affordable housing for our low income population, we will not be able to significantly resolve our crisis of unsheltered individuals experiencing homelessness. This report contains examples of models that have been used in a variety of settings and can easily be produced for a fraction of the cost that we currently pay to provide services and temporary shelter to the 6,200 people who are homeless in Hawai`i today. Adopting well-proven models that incorporate low cost materials and methods of construction to significantly lower the cost of building will leave only two remaining challenges to overcome: locating available land and building an appropriate infrastructure. If there is the political will, creative solutions can be found to resolve both.

bamboo houses container housing container housing
hexayurt designs rammed earth house Pinellas Hope Tent City run by Catholic Charities in Clearwater, Florida

Click on the pictures above for a larger version.

There will always be a segment of the homeless population who do not reside in our current homeless shelter system because of lack of space, eligibility, or personal choice. For many of those living on our streets, beaches, or parks, permissible temporary encampment would be highly preferable to continuing the costly periodic sweeps which accomplish little but temporarily hiding the problem from view . Successful models do exist in cities on the mainland. Most have developed sensible restrictions, including the enforcement of strict rules against the use of drugs or alcohol and a prohibition against all forms violence. Another common component is the emphasis placed on cultivating the campers involvement in the selection of new campers and the development and enforcement of camp rules. A substantial benefit of all successful models is building a sense of community among the residents that often provides a strong foundation for residents to become empowered and deal more effectively with the challenges they face.

We thank you for taking the time to read the report. We urge you to circulate it to those who you think may find it useful. Our inability to deal effectively so far with the crisis of affordable housing and homelessness in Hawai`i should not inhibit our continuing search for models that are appropriate for our state. We hope that this report stimulates the development of creative and realistic solutions to a crisis that seems to be getting worse rather than better.

Click here to read the report in color and here for black and white.
To read more about our work on affordable housing, click here.

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