Lawmakers want to create a new rental subsidy program targeted at those 62 years and older.

Some state legislators are hoping to direct more aid toward housing programs for kupuna, especially community elders who are homeless or at risk of becoming so. 

House Bill 648 would expand the state’s current rent supplement program to target senior populations. The current program covers rent that exceeds 30% of a renters income. The amount of rent assistance available depends on the area and an individual’s income.

HB 648 focuses specifically on those who are at least 62 years old, and also directs the Hawaii Public Housing Authority to offer counseling and landlord assistance to the renter.

HB 648 passed the House Housing Committee on Wednesday.

University Avenue runs mauka to makai near the University of Hawaii campus and Moiliili neighborhood.
Hawaii lawmakers advanced a new rent subsidy program targeted at seniors. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

“We are greatly concerned about the plight of elderly and the possible homelessness facing them due to both inflation and rising rents,” Betty Lou Larson, a representative for Catholic Charities Hawaii said during a hearing on the bill. 

Larson said that the waitlist for a Catholic Charities housing assistance program doubled last year. 

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Keali‘i Lopez, the state director of American Association for Retired Persons, said that housing costs are a concern throughout the state. Lopez said that 53% of renters and 20% of homeowners spend more than 30% of their income on housing.

State agencies in charge of housing raised concerns about staffing abilities and the future management of the rental program. Hakim Ouansafi, the executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, noted some staffing concerns.

“Out of all of the staff we have, we only have one position that’s state-funded,” Ouansafi said. “We cannot use federal staff to execute a state program.” 

He said that for every 250 participants in the program, HPHA would require $1 million and one staffer to administer the rental assistance program.

Even with those concerns, there was no opposition to the bill. It now faces a hearing in the House Finance Committee.

“This bill would really be a godsend because their rents are too high for them to afford,” Larson.

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