Living in Hawaii may seem like a pipe dream to mainlanders, but for many residents of the tropical paradise, where the homeless population is the highest per capita in the nation, life there is not so dreamy. With the support of a Level Three Housing Opportunity Grant from the National Association of REALTORS®, the state association and two local REALTOR® boards are working to connect Hawaii’s landlords and property managers with programs that help people who are homeless to rent rooms or apartments.
The first Landlord Summit was conducted last fall by the Hawaii Association of REALTORS®, in Honolulu, where the state’s greatest concentration of homelessness exists. It was attended by the governor and the mayor, and by about 300 landlords, property managers and REALTORS®, in addition to numerous social services agencies there to support landlords who were willing to rent units to people who’d been living on the streets.
“We know this is a very difficult and emotional issue for many people, and through the efforts of our local REALTORS®, we hope to begin finding some light at the end of this tunnel,” says Hawaii Association of REALTORS® Government Affairs Director Myoung Oh. “Our goal is to educate those in a position to provide apartments, and to alleviate the misinformation that often leads to mistaken impressions of people in need. There are many levels of homelessness. We want to find shelter for those on the streets and also prevent any more people from slipping through the cracks when they can’t make rent.”
Oh states that, “We, as an organization, are trying to do our part, because we’re a small-knit family, one big ohana. We have to begin by talking to individuals who can make a difference in the lives of others.”
On Maui, where at least 5,000 people do not have homes, and a third of the population spends more than 50% of its income for rent, housing instability has reached crisis proportions. David DeLeon, the Government Affairs Director of the REALTORS® Association of Maui, says that parts of the island resemble a third world country. The good news, he notes, is that Governor David Ige takes the problem of homelessness across the state very seriously, and is pro-active in his commitment to solving it. His staff attended the Landlord Summit on Maui in June. “The REALTORS® are credible leaders on housing issues, and it’s our responsibility to raise awareness,” says DeLeon. “If a summit gets potential landlords thinking, ‘Let’s clean out the cottage, or the back room, and give it a try,’ then that’s a good start.”
The Landlord Summit on Maui brought about 100 property owners in contact with numerous agencies and programs that provide security deposit and rental assistance, case management, translation services and mental health hotlines; as well as local government officials who were ready to hear concerns about zoning restrictions. “In a small community,” says DeLeon, “just getting a story about the summit on the front page of the newspaper of record makes people think. Making the need known, and highlighting the opportunities and the safety nets that are in place, can make a difference.”
The “Big Island” of Hawaii is so diverse from end to end, that its REALTOR® Association received a Housing Opportunity Grant to sponsor two landlord summits earlier this year, one in Hilo (East Hawaii), and the other in Kona (West Hawaii). Kehaulani Costa, Association Executive of Hawaii Island REALTORS®, explains that an especially important aspect of both events was honoring landlords who were already working with social services to help families and individuals in transition to get off assistance. “By highlighting the successes of these landlords who had accepted formerly homeless tenants, we were able to give their peers at the summits the chance to see that others were actually doing this, and that it’s working. They were able to ask questions, and in the end, I think many understood that this is not just about the rental income, but about helping the community.”
At the Hilo summit, where about 160 prospective landlords were in attendance, 26 units were committed for rental to Section 8 tenants or clients of other social service programs. In Kona, 120 attended and fourteen units were pledged. “That’s not going to take care of everyone who needs housing,” says Costa, “but it’s a start. Those landlords will become role models for their own neighbors, and create a ripple effect.” She hopes that her board will be able to make the summits an annual event until the rental assistance programs gain greater traction.
“This grant made it possible for us to be a part of the conversation, and part of the solution,” says Costa. “Thanks to the REALTOR® Party, our board can bring financial resources to the table, but we don’t have the man-power to do the leg-work; the housing non-profits we’re working with are mission-driven, with plenty of vision and volunteers. Together, it’s a wonderful, powerful collaboration.”
To learn more about how Hawaii’s REALTORS® are working with governments and social service agencies to combat homelessness, contact Myoung Oh, Government Affairs Director of the Hawaii Association of REALTORS®, at 808-733-7060; David DeLeon, Government Affairs Director of the REALTORS® Association of Maui, at 808-243-8585; or Kehaulani Costa, Association Executive of Hawaii Island REALTORS®, at 808-935-0827.