Kauai's Homeless Deserve To Be Heard On Housing Policy - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Rowena Pangan

Rowena Pangan is owner of the Hoomana Thrift Store in Kapaa, Kauai.It's a training center for people with learning disabilities.

State senators are urged to hear a bill to increase the sales tax on multimillion dollar homes statewide.

Last Tuesday, Puanani, a woman in her 50s living in a homeless encampment in Kapaa, Kauai, walked for two hours to the Hoomana Thrift Shop to testify via Zoom in support of a housing bill that could change her life.

Senate Bill 678 would increase the sales tax on multimillion-dollar homes in Hawaii to increase the stateʻs funding for homeless services, affordable housing and land conservation.

By increasing the tax rate to 2%-6% on homes selling for over $2 million and dedicating 10% to homeless services, the state funding for homeless services would increase from $11 million a year to $40-$50 million a year.

For Kauai this would mean an additional $2 million to 3 million for homeless services. Instead of two homeless outreach workers for the entire island there could be eight outreach workers. It would triple the funding for critical programs such as Housing First rent vouchers, which are designed to help homeless people access housing. That is why Puanani and 16 other houseless residents came to testify on SB 678.

However, instead of having their voices be heard, all of our houseless residents were denied the opportunity to testify because the bill was deferred at the last minute with no opportunity for public comment. Apparently, there is another bill, Senate Bill 362, that some lawmakers prefer — but it has no dedicated funding for homeless services and would raise one-third as much money. 

It’s not easy for houseless people to overcome the fear of public shame and stigma to speak up, let alone overcome physical obstacles such as walking for miles or paying for bus fare to show up. Puanani and our other houseless residents bravely showed up, and they deserve to be heard.

Multimillion-dollar homes are selling on Kauai’s North Shore. How about increasing the sales tax to help struggling residents? (Alana Eagle/Civil Beat/2018)

SB 678 is the only bill that would increase the ongoing state funding for homeless services. Although the official government statistics estimate that there are 404 houseless people on Kauai, I know the numbers are much higher.

Every Friday I serve over 100 houseless people who are in need of food and a hot shower and most of them walk to reach Hoomana. I am only serving one small part of the island. There are likely between 1,000 to 2,000 houseless people on Kauai and the current state funding is simply not enough.

Also, since the funds come from a tax that only happens when a person sells a home, it would not impact any local person staying in their home. And most of the tax is on homes worth more than $2 million.

People selling these homes are making significant profits on their home sales. For example, a home 25 miles away on Weke Road in Hanalei was sold three months ago for $6.8 million by family trust from California that had purchased the house for $3.5 million in 2018.

In three years, this trust fund from California earned $3.2 million by owning a home in Kauai and they only paid $75,735 (or 1.1%) in conveyance taxes to the state of Hawaii.

If the same home had been sold in Seattle the owners would have paid $238,000 in taxes and in San Francisco $170,000 in taxes. Why are we charging less while our own community members struggle to afford housing?

Everyday people like Puanani stress over basic necessities like finding a place to shower or to safely keep their belongings. More importantly, they are our community members and they want to be treated with the same dignity and respect as anyone else.

“Have we fallen on deaf ears? Do we not matter?” asked several houseless people that I had encouraged to walk to Hoomana to testify on the bill. When the hearing was canceled they felt that no one cared or wanted to listen to them.

Puanani shouldn’t have to wait another year to be heard. Our lawmakers should bring back SB 678 for a public hearing. It is a good bill not only for Puanani, but for everyone who needs affordable housing or who cares about conserving our aina.

This is why over 85 organizations and people supported the bill: ranging from The Nature Conservancy to AARP and affordable housing developers. It is a good bill for the people of Hawaii.

It is a good bill for the people of Hawaii.

The only testimony against the bill was from two organizations that simply do not support any tax increases — the Realtors Association and the National Commercial Real Estate Association. We need to raise funds for the housing needs of our people and a tax of 2%-6% on people who are selling multimillion dollar homes is fair.

Canceling SB 678 is not how we should be treating our kupuna, our keiki, our Native Hawaiians and the people of Hawaii who are struggling with housing. Hawaii should not be only for the rich and famous but for the people who grew up here.

We all agree on that, so it shouldn’t be this hard for our representatives to do something about it.  Please contact your Hawaii state senator and ask for SB 678 to be heard.

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About the Author

Rowena Pangan

Rowena Pangan is owner of the Hoomana Thrift Store in Kapaa, Kauai.It's a training center for people with learning disabilities.

Latest Comments (0)

I live on Kauai and have been present at Hoʻomana on Fridays. Until youʻve seen what Rowena, and others like her serving the houseless community, are doing, you have little idea what effort this takes. And getting folks to walk to the thrift shop to testify!? Amazing. This bill would increase the funding available to our local community, fund jobs in this sector, and help folks get back on their feet. These services could positively impact health and mental stability.For legislators to defer any bill at the last minute is unacceptable. People have structured their day around spoken testimony, traveling to the capitol often on their own dime or to a site where they can and expect to be heard. Legislators: either do a better job of scheduling bills (less of them on a given day), lengthen the session, or prioritize the timing of bills to be heard depending on the amount of testimony submitted. If you canʻt do that in the 48 hour window between the posted hearing and the hearing itself, that tells you that more time should be allotted. You're being asked to allow public testimony on bills affecting the community youʻre supposed to be serving.

lisa · 7 months ago

Research and data have shown over and over that locations with the highest cost of housing have the highest rates of homelessness. Providing affordable housing and resources for people does not "encourage" homelessness. People aren’t looking at homelessness as something to try out to see how they like it. Tax these ultra-wealthy folks who are clearly profiting and contributing to this problem.

Chisland_Riot_Grrl · 7 months ago

Unfortunately, higher taxes do not achieve results.

Fairhouser · 7 months ago

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