Hawaii lawmakers are allocating $12 million out of the state’s supplemental budget to address the intertwined issues of homelessness and affordable housing.
It’s $3 million more than was requested by the Ige administration.
But the leaders of the budget committees in the House and Senate made clear that they expect to hear back later from the Ige administration and the Department of Human Services on how the money was spent and what was accomplished.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said she and Senate Ways and Means Chair Jill Tokuda learned a lot about the crisis while serving on a task force, formed last year by Gov. David Ige, to tackle the critical issues.
Solving the problems, they agreed, will take more than government intervention, and involves private interests and nonprofits that work closely with state and county agencies.
Rather than distribute funds that are compartmentalized and dropped into what she called silos, Luke said the committees would award a lump sum. This way, the Legislature puts the onus on Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness, and on DHS, the agency that deals most directly with housing and homelessness, to decide where to direct the funds.
What Luke and Tokuda said they want are benchmarks and a plan to demonstrate that the money, described by Luke as a “huge amount,” would be spent wisely.
Tokuda said the $12 million shows that both the House and Senate agree that the two issues are a top priority this year. The money can be used for a variety of initiatives such as greater outreach — especially on the neighbor islands — a Housing First program, a pilot program to repair vacant public-housing units, a new homeless shelter in Kakaako, a stored property program and rapid-rehousing efforts.
Both legislators also stressed the joint nature of a solution to the problem and the need to better work together.
Luke specifically criticized the City and County of Honolulu, where competition and infighting between the mayor and the Council are impeding progress. Solving homelessness should not be about who gets the credit, she said.
“If anything, this should be the opportunity to be collaborative,” Tokuda added.
Other measures addressing homeless and housing issues remain before lawmakers. Many were deferred Monday and pushed to Wednesday, primarily because the budget — House Bill 1700 — remains a work in progress.
With dollar figures in the budget bill now being firmed up, other “pukas,” or holes, can gradually be filled in in advance of Friday’s conference committee deadline.