Finland Is Solving Homelessness, And Hawaii Can Too - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Kenna StormoGipson

Kenna StormoGipson is the director of housing policy for the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center.

Stable housing provides the foundation for thriving families and communities. In the 50 years since Hawaii first declared a housing crisis in 1970, that foundation has continuously been eroded.

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Hawaii has the highest housing costs relative to local wages in the nation, with growing gaps between income and rent costs leading to some of the nation’s highest rates of homelessness and out-migration.

This does harm to both our people and our economy. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Finland, in recent decades, has virtually eliminated street homelessness called “sleeping rough,” and reduced housing costs for all its residents at the same time.

The success of the Finnish housing model is due to a national level strategy where the state government provides financial subsidies for both the supply side (construction of homes) and the demand side (renter or homebuyer assistance) and the counties provide land for affordable housing in exchange for infrastructure funding and other land use support.

Currently, government financed homes make up 21% of Helsinki’s housing stock, although the goal for new neighborhoods is 30% affordable rentals, 20% affordable for sale with limited equity, and 50% private market housing not financed by the public.

By contrast, today only about 7% of Hawaii’s housing stock is price restricted due to initial public investments. The remaining 93% of homes are for rent (or sale) at market price and are not required to provide any public benefits.

Homelessness in Finland- steady progress

Chronic disinvestment in housing by the public sector means too much of our housing is unaffordable at local wages. To shift this imbalance, the public sector — and by extension the general public — must play a larger role in housing policy discussions.

The Homelessness Awareness and Housing Solutions series of events last week created an opportunity to do just that.

To help lay out a vision for what greater public investment in housing could look like, this multi-county series featured experts in housing finance and development from Finland, along with two leaders within the Sámi community (the indigenous people of far northern Europe) to lift up the voice of indigenous peoples in connection with a “people first” approach to housing policy.

Underpinning Finland’s strategy is the foundational belief that every person should have access to housing as a human right. It’s a belief that has deep roots in Hawaii as well, though our actions in recent decades have failed to live up to this value.

While conference events took inspiration from what’s been done elsewhere, they also focused on Hawaii’s strengths and potential. The events included talks on the history of Hawaii’s land use; promoting indigenous values as housing solutions; listening to the stories of people with lived experience of houselessness; revenue sources for affordable housing and more.

Sleeping person wrapped in garbage bags along Kalakaua Avenue the day after the Safe Sound Waikiki program press conference was held with lawmakers and local Waikiki business leaders.
A homeless person along Kalakaua Avenue. Does Finland offer a solution to Hawaii’s crisis? Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Most importantly, the series provided participants an opportunity to get further involved in the advancement of affordable housing for Hawaii and its people. Residents who want to help make Hawaii more affordable and end homelessness should consider joining the Hawaii Housing Affordability Coalition at www.HiHAC.org.

As Blossom Feiteira, a long time housing advocate, said at the close of the conference: “No one organization can do it alone. It takes many hands to clean the kalo patch, to plant, to harvest and to maintain. Let’s move this kuleana to the next level and get our people to the places they deserve to be.”

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About the Author

Kenna StormoGipson

Kenna StormoGipson is the director of housing policy for the Hawaii Budget and Policy Center.


Latest Comments (0)

I'm sure I'm oversimplifying a bit, but I see three groups of the homeless:1. Those with serious mental issues,2. Those addicted to substance abuse, and3. Those who got messed up financially.I think the group 3 can be helped by a financial lift up. If we're lucky, maybe half of group 2 with help can beat their addictions and live better. Group 1 can probably never be helped and will always be homeless. So we'll only be able to save half of the homeless short of imprisonment in hospitals which today's social sensibilities will not allow.

Manawai · 1 day ago

It is interesting to see comparisons with other countries and how they handle housing problems, but aside from taking little pieces of this experience and trying to apply it here that about where things end. Hawaii is not Finland, which has a tax rate of near 60%, or Singapore, both countries have socially compliant populations that have a much deeper respect public property and facilities. Unfortunately, it is the opposite in Hawaii, not by all, but seemingly by the majority of those that public housing and facilities would benefit most. The proof is in the pudding as they say, just take a look at public facilities in the lowest income areas, broken up public bathrooms, vandalized facilities and graffiti tagged neighborhoods. This is not unique to Hawaii, it's spread all across America. I've noticed this is not the case in many other countries where citizens not only have a great appreciation for public property, but take pride in it. No one wants to talk about it, but this is the reason why most of these Shangri-La visions of housing won't work here because it will first take a change in attitude from the public, no matter how much money you throw at the problem.

wailani1961 · 1 week ago

Finland has a much more evolved and educated citizenry than here and their belief that housing and helping people is more of a basic human rights issue than we do. We continue (especially right wingers and so called conservatives) to mock places like Finland as being "Socialist and Communist" all while we shoot ourselves in the foot because we continue to believe in the old "bootstraps" myth of winning or losing in a survival-of-the-fittest mentality. In other words, we actively work against our own best interests.

WhatMeWorry · 1 week ago

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