Monday, August 31, 2015

 

Hawaii’s “leadership” so far has resulted in the present housing crisis



Lalosin [a person living on the streets in Kakaako] says it's not just about getting people off the streets, she says something has to be done to prevent them from ending up on the sidewalks in the first place.
 
"Even though they got some of us going into shelters. The next time they turn around, there's more people out there so no matter what they do it's going to be a constant thing. It's going to keep going, going, going until they do something about the rent increases," explained Lalosin.—
quoted by Hawaii News Now

 



by Larry Geller

Hawaii’s homeless count increasing even as the nationwide count decreases

Hawaii, by rejecting the proven Housing First approach to reducing homelessness, is bucking the national trend. The annual Point in Time Survey for Oahu shows that homelessness here is increasing.

From a Civil Beat article:

Since 2009, Oahu has seen its homeless population increase 35 percent from 3,638 to 4,903.

The data also shows fewer people living in some form of shelter in 2015 than in previous years. In fact, Oahu’s unsheltered population grew from 1,633 in 2014 to 1,939 in 2015 while its sheltered population decreased from 3,079 in 2014 to 2,964.

National averages, on the other hand, show that homelessness is decreasing. Individual cities have shown remarkable decreases.

From New Data Show Homelessness has Declined 11 Percent since 2007

Required by Congress, HUD’s PIT Count is the only national survey that counts everyone who is staying in a shelter or other homeless programs, as well as people who are unsheltered. Its methodology is fairly consistent over time, allowing an assessment of whether the number of homeless people is growing or shrinking each year.  Though it does not count every single homeless person, nor does it assess the number of people who are at high risk of homelessness because they have unstable or unacceptable housing, it is the only way that we can determine approximately how many people are homeless, the characteristics of our homeless population, and how homeless Americans are using shelters.

The 2014 PIT Count data show that numbers of homeless people is moving in the right direction:

  • Overall homelessness has declined by 11 percent since HUD started collecting this data in 2007
  • Chronic homelessness has seen a 21 percent decrease in 2007
  • Veteran homelessness has decreased by one third since 2007

This data is evidence that, as communities across the country have increased focus on getting people out of homelessness and into homes rapidly, these efforts are working—but they aren’t working well enough or quickly enough. “It is tremendous news that smart federal investment coupled with innovative local approaches has brought the number of homeless people down,” said Nan Roman, President and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “Despite the good news, however, we must do better.”

 

It’s good to hear this wisdom (actually, just good, common sense) on Hawaii News Now. You’ve read the same here and perhaps also from other advocates.

Unfortunately, the Governor’s Leadership Team is not yet working on Oahu’s housing crisis. They are working on clearing the streets of Kakaako. Nor have they admitted that the overcrowded Kakaako encampment is a result of misguided and punitive public policy on the part of the city and lack of involvement at the state level. A crisis in housing was noted even a dozen or more years ago but has been allowed to roll on unabated.

Until affordable housing is readily available, more people will become unable to remain in the housing they already have. So more people will be competing for shelter space, and more will end up on the streets.

Nor can Oahu provide shelter space faster than the numbers have been increasing. It’s a losing battle, the way it is being fought, if it is being fought at all, in reality. As a matter of public policy, it is unworkable to attempt to shovel all homeless people into shelters, given that there are too few workable housing options.


Oahu’s housing market is broken

This snip is from Rethinking federal housing policy : how to make housing plentiful and affordable, Edward L. Glaeser and Joseph Gyourko, 2008

It is the metropolitan areas along the West Coast, most of the markets from Washington, DC, to Boston, MA, some places in Hawaii, and the odd interior market that are still experiencing an affordability crisis.

Prices are much higher than construction costs in these areas because housing supply is insufficient relative to strong demand. As long as supply remains limited and demand for these places is robust, these areas will not become more affordable. Additional supply of all quality types, not just low-income housing, is the only real solution to this affordability problem in these markets. The typical number of units provided by any federal program is too small to make a meaningful difference for overall affordability in the high-cost areas. A few hundred, or even a few thousand, extra units will have little impact on housing supply in a larger metropolitan area. Only the private sector will be able to create enough housing to meaningfully push prices down. The key question is what government policies will prod the private sector into large-scale production in high-cost areas.

Fortunately, the defining attribute of high-cost areas—prices that are substantially above construction costs—itself virtually defines profitability for new building. Any builder who is able to construct a few hundred units in Silicon Valley or suburban Boston and sell them for two (or more) times construction costs would surely love to do so.

We should try to fix only those housing markets that are broken,
and a housing market isn’t broken if it is delivering homes at reasonable prices relative to construction costs.

While I do not necessarily agree with the authors’ solutions as they would apply to Hawaii, their observations throughout the book appear useful.

Oahu’s housing market is broken.

Too much[3]

Building luxury high-rises in Kakaako is part of the problem, not part of a solution. The fact that an image such as this exists at all demonstrates the neglect that has taken place. Let’s be clear—there has been no change in policy (zoning, rent control or stabilization, etc.) that effectively addresses the need for truly affordable housing. The media, even as it salivates over advertising revenue generated by luxury developers, perpetuates a false definition of “affordable rentals” that obscures one of the root problems Oahu residents face in trying to keep a roof over their heads—the stagnation in the truly affordable rental market.

I always add that it is also necessary to be able to pay the rent—which means we have to look beyond just housing and at how to provide a living wage to every worker.

The problems we face are not so simple that a “Leadership Team” with no experience in any of the areas it needs to deal with can realistically make much progress. There need to be experts, budgets, timelines, commitments and realistic measurable goals and objectives. The Governor’s people will need a lot of help to make any progress at all.

When the 2016 Point in Time survey takes place, will it show an increase or a decrease in homelessness in Hawaii? If the numbers continue to increase, it may be time to review our leadership, at least on these issues.



Go back a dozen years to read about the same issues as today

This is a re-run of part of an article I posted on January 20, 2015:

Our homelessness crisis: we knew what to do in 2003 but didn’t do it

While lawmakers relaxed in their hammocks, the economy continued to worsen. Housing in Hawaii became increasingly expensive, especially affordable rentals. It wasn’t unusual to see people lining up with completed rental agreements for a landlord to review—often the first person to push to the front with a signed (but otherwise blank) agreement got the apartment or home.

I won’t step through the many articles, but I’d like you to see this, from 2003.

20031116 Adv

The November 16, 2003 edition of the Honolulu Advertiser focused on homelessness in Hawaii. Articles included:

This image suggests that even in 2003, people were looking for action. And there was some. The article mentions $39 million spent. In those days, that was a lot of money, and we cannot say it had no effect. But we do know that the numbers of homeless increased.  What’s discouraging is that the evidence-based Housing First program was known to us then. The same day’s editorial explains it nicely:

20031126 Adv editorial

Read it. The editorial could have been written today. And it shows compassion, something amazingly lacking in much of today’s press coverage of what it means to be homeless in “Paradise.”


The editorial concludes:

To make "housing first" work in Hawai'i, we are all going to have to let go of our fears and prejudices and not expect people with mental health problems and addictions to pull themselves up by their bootstraps before we give them a break. They have to feel safe before they can change the behaviors they developed to survive.

[Honolulu Advertiser, Housing First can work for Hawaii, 11/16/2003]



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