HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Hope Services’ Caroline Dupio, housing resource specialist (center) talks with attendees about successful low-income renters Tuesday during the Landlord Summit at Nani Mau Gardens
February 13, 2016 – Hawaii Tribune Herald
It’s a struggle just about every Hawaii County renter knows. Too many people need affordable housing, and there’s simply not enough.
For those with Section 8 vouchers, rental options are even slimmer.
A first-ever lunch event Tuesday called the “2016 Landlord Summit” aimed to tackle the problem from a different angle — encouraging landlords to open more rental units to low-income and Section 8 tenants.
“By the end of the event, we’d like commitments from some of the (landlords in attendance),” said Brandee Menino, chief executive officer of the hosting organization, HOPE Services Hawaii, minutes before the lunch got underway. “We’d like them to maybe consider opening up another unit or two, and just bring about that discussion here in this venue at this event.”
About 160 people, mostly private landlords, but also county employees and others from various social service organizations, attended the two-hour summit, put on by HOPE Services in partnership with other agencies, including the offices of the governor, mayor and Housing and Community Development.
The nonprofit will hold a second summit in Kona in March.
County statistics show about 1,800 Big Island residents currently live in housing through Section 8, a federally subsidized rental assistance program managed by the Office of Housing and Community Development. Another 60 have vouchers and are looking for housing, and that number is expected to double in the coming weeks. And there’s a waiting list about 6,500 people deep — the program is at capacity.
Once approved, an individual has 60 days to secure housing before the voucher expires. About 20 percent of the time, vouchers expire because a person can’t find housing.
“Not all of our owners accept Section 8,” said Amanda Donaldson, East Hawaii chapter president of the National Association of Residential Property Managers. “We try to encourage it, but it’s definitely not the norm — there’s not enough housing or affordable housing. And even folks who are borderline and not receiving Section 8 vouchers, they can’t quite afford a $1,200 (per month) house in town.”
Hawaii County vacancy rates are low. Statistics from the state’s Department of Business, Economic Development &Tourism showed the county’s rental vacancy rate was 10.2 percent from 2010-2013. By comparison, that same vacancy rate was 17.95 percent in Kauai County and 26.05 percent in Maui County.
“The housing situation has gotten so bad, they’re even willing to rent a room sometimes,” she said.
“For every five phone calls we get, we might have one house … Our houses don’t stay vacant more than a month. You have people jumping on them right away, especially if they’re affordable.”
Others end up on the streets. Unofficial numbers from this year’s Homeless Point in Time Count, a yearly effort to gauge the island’s current number of sheltered and unsheltered individuals, counted at least 1,300 unsheltered individuals, up from 1,241 last year.
HOPE Services has federal and state money to help both tenants and landlords, Menino said, which can mean footing various move-in expenses — rental deposits, or utility deposits — or, helping landlords with unexpected costs such as damage to a unit, should a tenant situation not go as desired.
“We reach out, and we look for unrestricted funding because we know it won’t be 100 percent success,” she said. “There are second, third and fourth chances … Should that situation become unsavory, we’re willing to come to the table and help them out.”
Craig Irvine, an Oregon man who owns rental properties in various states, including two on the Big Island, told the Tribune-Herald he’s had mixed experiences with Section 8 tenants and can understand why some are hesitant.
“Years ago, I had a renter who was Section 8 in Idaho, and it was the worst,” he said. “I never got any rent, and they literally ruined the house. But now, I have one (on the Big Island), and they are absolutely fantastic. It’s like the other end of that spectrum on being a great renter. Every individual is different, really.”
After the summit, HOPE Services counted 21 landlord commitments, for a total of 26 units, which Menino called “a great start.”
“But we certainly need more help,” she said. “(Landlords) are our partners — we cannot house homeless people without housing, and they have access to the inventory of the housing.”