Thousands of families who rely on housing vouchers in Hawaii will have their rents paid through February despite the federal government shutdown, city and state officials said.

But if the longest shutdown in history drags into March, the counties may need to rely on their own coffers to ensure landlords get paid.

“We are not impacted yet,” says Will Spence, acting director for the housing department in Maui County, “but we are concerned.”

Federal funding for Section 8 vouchers, which are administered by four counties and the state, is secured only through February. Thousands of families rely on these vouchers, with 1,400 on Maui alone, Spence says.

Hawaiian Rent All Message to Congress and the current US government shut down.
The owners of the hardware store Hawaiian Rent-All recently shared their feelings about the shutdown with this message to Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Officials at the City & County of Honolulu say they’re prepared to borrow $4.2 million from the city’s general fund if necessary to make sure that Section 8 landlords continue to get paid and 3,700 families remain housed.

Hakim Ouansafi, director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, says that public housing programs aren’t being affected by the shutdown but funding for dozens of project-based rental units is only secured until the end of this month.

“At this point there is no guidance whatsoever on that,” he says. “What HUD is saying is just stand by for more information when it comes.”

He adds that no one is panicking yet.

Still, he’s worries the shutdown could discourage landlords who may be already wary about participating in Section 8. The state already fights a stigma against low-income renters and the reliability of the Section 8 program is a big selling point. If the shutdown drags on, landlords are “going to think twice next time” about accepting government vouchers.

“Now they’re going to be thinking what happens if the government shuts down again,” Ouansafi says. “That long-term effect is really horrible.” 

A spokesman for Kauai County said the shutdown has held up funding for affordable housing projects.

Victims of the Kilauea volcanic eruption on Hawaii Island are still receiving their housing subsidies through the Federal Emergency Management Agency but additional funding relief has been held up, Hawaii Island officials said. That includes $1.6 million intended to help with case management for disaster victims who need assistance.

Kimo Carvalho at the Institute of Human Services says that the homeless shelter has funding to help people who are short on their rent payments and facing eviction.

The amount of money varies depending on the situation. Carvalho says he hasn’t heard from any federal workers. But next week is the first of February, when rent is due.

“We expect that they will call probably within the second or third days of the month of February,” he says.

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