Honolulu, June 24, 2011 – The commitment has been made. The goal set. The numbers published. Holding to its pledge to combat homelessness, the Diocese of Honolulu will take the lead in creating or preserving 720 units of affordable housing by the end of 2013.

After several years of discussion and planning, Bishop Larry Silva announced in a May 10 letter that he has “wholeheartedly approved” a plan that engages parishes in “constructing, restoring, converting or preserving” housing for households that earn less than 30 percent of Hawaii’s average median income.

The Homeless Affordable Housing Plan, which the bishop called “a compilation of many peoples’ best ideas,” was written by the diocese’s Office for Social Ministry and Office of Affordable Housing.

The bishop received the detailed 17-page document in April. He approved it on May 10, the feast of St. Damien. Its implementation begins this month.

The plan brings together a dozen different projects intended to result in permanent housing for the poor — ventures that include renovating idle government housing to preventing foreclosures to retrofitting old convents.

The strategy has the diocese collaborating with four groups to achieve these goals: the government, private landlords and developers, non-profit organizations, and Catholic parishes and religious orders that own property.

The diocesan entities implementing the plan are the Office for Social Ministry, the new HOPE Services Hawaii, Catholic Charities Hawaii and individual parishes.

According to Blessed Sacrament Father Robert Stark, resource developer for the Office for Social Ministry, the plan was created from the compilation of many projects, partners and approaches.

“Many of the projections were based on conversations with various partners regarding their past results, current capacity and future plans,” he said in an e-mail to Hawaii Catholic Herald.

“Other projections were based on efforts to create new programs that will start small and grow over time,” Father Stark said.

Here are some of the projects proposed:

Renovation of public housing

The Office for Social Ministry and the Office for Affordable Housing will revive Volunteers Instilling Pride (VIP), a grass-roots initiative that renovated and put back into service more than 200 vacant Hawaii Public Housing Authority units on Oahu from 2007 to 2009. The Housing Authority operates 6,000 units, of which about 400 are in disrepair and unoccupied. The first VIP project is tentatively scheduled to begin this month on Oahu. Goal: 150 units by 2013.

Acquisition of Pauahi Hale

Discussion is underway for a Catholic entity to acquire and operate Pauahi Hale, a 77-unit affordable housing complex in downtown Honolulu owned by the City and County of Honolulu and now up for sale. Being considered as possible developers are Catholic Charities Hawaii Development Corporation, HOPE Services Hawaii, or Mercy Housing, a national organization. Goal: 77 units by 2012.

Big Island Tenant Solutions

Tenant Solutions is a program of HOPE Services Hawaii that helps private landlords take in low-income tenants with the help of Section 8 vouchers, government financial assistance for households making less than 30 percent average median income. Since 2005, Tenant Solutions has recruited, assisted and supported more than 250 landlords who contributed over 500 units as affordable housing. Goal: 75 units by 2013.

Habitat for Humanity

The Office for Social Ministry and the Office for Affordable Housing are now recruiting parish volunteers to help Hawaii’s seven Habitat for Humanity affiliates build new housing. Habitat constructs permanent homes from scratch using local volunteer workers, which cuts construction costs at least by half. Those buying the homes put in 500-750 hours of work. Goal: 42 units by 2013.

Foreclosure prevention

The community organizations Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA) and Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) have worked in the past with Catholic parishes in offering education on home foreclosure prevention and loan re-modification. The Office for Social Ministry and the Office for Affordable Housing will join them to engage more parishes and offer trained volunteers to provide personal assistance to affected homeowners. Goal: 150 foreclosures prevented by 2013.

Conversion of church buildings

The Office for Social Ministry and the Office for Affordable Housing hopes to find at least six vacant or underutilized church buildings (former schools, convents, homes, etc.) to be converted into group homes under the Oxford House model. An Oxford House is a democratically run, self-supporting, drug free home for 6-15 residents who are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Goal: 36 persons housed by 2013.

Recycled housing

The Office for Social Ministry, the Office for Affordable Housing and Sacred Heart Parish in Pahoa on the Big Island are recruiting volunteers to refurbish 15-18 units from the recently closed emergency shelter in Kawaihae as transitional or permanent housing in Pahoa. The County of Hawaii would move the units from west Hawaii to east Hawaii for renovation on Sacred Heart Parish property before their permanent relocation. Goal: 15 elderly housing units by 2013.

Creative construction programs

The Office for Social Ministry and the Office for Affordable Housing will work with non-traditional housing providers to build housing on church property using low-cost alternative construction methods. These would include homes made from steel shipping containers, off-the-grid housing that does not use public utilities, yurts (portable wood-framed, felt-covered structures), and pre-fabricated homes. Goal: 15 units by 2013.

The affordable housing plan has 2013 as its target year because that is when the diocesan strategic plan called the Road Map concludes. Addressing homelessness was one of the Road Map’s six objectives.

“This plan is directly tied to the Road Map’s timeline,” Father Stark said. Sticking to a schedule was also a way to produce “tangible results,” he said.

To produce 720 units by the end of 2013 averages out to more than 23 a month, but “the nature of our projects does not lend itself to dividing the projected units by number of project months,” Father Stark said.

Progress will be reviewed quarterly.

“The quarter ending September 2011 will be our first quarter with multiple projects operational and should provide early statistical insight into progress to date,” Father Stark said.

“The majority of housing opportunities are scheduled for 2012 and 2013,” he said.

The diocese greatly expanded it efforts in combating homelessness last fall when it founded HOPE Services Hawaii, and hired Father Stark as a resource developer/community organizer under the Office for Social Ministry and Kent Anderson as housing development director under the Office for Affordable Housing.

Brandee Menino was named executive director of the Big Island-based HOPE Services, which runs the dozen or so homeless assistance programs previously under the Office for Social Ministry.

Downs, Pat . “Diocesan goal: 720 affordable housing units by 2013” Hawaii Catholic Herald, 24 June. 2011.http://www.hawaiicatholicherald.com/Home/tabid/256/newsid884/3705/Default.aspx