State Homeless Coordinator Scott Morishige consistently points out that, not immediately, but in the years following the 2009 economic recession, what started as moving in with parents or surfing the couch, has took years to evolve into a huge increase in homelessness.

That’s why, with median home prices hovering around $ 1 million in Maui, O’ahu, and Kaua’i, the statewide search for affordable shelter continues.

Maui now has a plan that could provide enough affordable housing, and tired O’ahu tenants are starting to organize.

Jack, whose last name has been withheld to avoid retaliation, moved from Silicon Valley to Honolulu five years ago. If you haven’t looked for a rental lately, he says it’s difficult there.

“The first place we moved into had terrible water damage. We moved to another location, the first day we were there there was water coming out of the wall. My landlord’s response is : “We’ll send someone in a few days, ‘” said Jack. “Then the person introduces himself and the person tells me, unofficially, you should move out. It is not a safe place for your little child. “

After incidents like this, along with stolen security deposits and threats of eviction, Jack helped found the Honolulu Tenant Union in late 2019.

The idea is to inform tenants of their rights and to put them in contact with services. Also, the idea is to organize facing what Jack calls a weighted habitat in favor of the owner.

Kenna StormoGipson is director of housing policy at the Hawai’i Budget and Policy Center, a research arm of Hawai’i Appleseed. She says that for tenants, being able to pay rent is not enough.

“One thing that has happened is that even people on rental assistance have been evicted, sometimes because the landlord decided to sell,” she said.

If the owners want to sell, there is no recourse for the tenant.

“It was difficult to achieve. That even people with the money to pay rent under federal programs, especially on the neighboring islands, Maui, Kaua’i, there is literally no place that be affordable, “said StormoGipson.

Foo Pham chairs the Housing Now committee of Faith Action for Community Equity. They’ve been following housing laws for years and say O’ahu, for example, currently needs around 22,000 affordable homes.

They support an empty dwellings tax on unoccupied dwellings to encourage the rental of currently empty units.

“According to the last census, there are around 85,000 vacant homes on O’ahu,” Pham said. “So if we could leverage the existing units and only get a third of those units back on the market by motivating them with this empty house tax deterrent, that could give us the 22,000 units wanted. “

An empty house tax, or an investment property tax, makes sense in Hawai’i, which has the lowest property taxes in the country, according to StormoGipson. She said that for the very wealthy, there is no deterrent to just running the air conditioning and keeping their properties vacant.

“There aren’t many people in Hawaii who can afford to pay, say, $ 4,000 a month in rent for a two bedroom. the rent of my second home is worth as much for me? I think that’s part of what we’re up against here. That’s why each county is really looking at how we tax these houses? ”Says StormoGipson.

Currently, Hawaii’s property taxes are among the lowest in the country. The average residential tax rate is 1.2% across the country. In Hawai’i, counties receive less than half.

“If you live in another state, that’s the average you pay, 1.2%. Here the owner occupancy rate is around 0.35% on O’ahu, each county is a Our average is around 0.6%, so about half or less than half of the national average, ”StormoGipson told HPR.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association identified this potential source of funding several years ago, but was unable to secure the constitutional amendment needed to implement such a tax throughout. the state.

“I think unfortunately in housing policy for a long time, there has been this idea that it’s more the federal thing, the feds will help pay for housing or the state will pay help for it, but it’s not. isn’t really the county’s responsibility to pay for it. “

“Housing policy and housing subsidies may very well be a problem at the county level. And probably in several ways, as counties control zoning. They tend to plan the city around infrastructure. It makes sense for counties to be more proactive when it comes to housing policy. The Maui County Affordable Housing Plan is a prime example, ”StormoGipson said.

Maui’s plan calls for raising money through capital property tax increases. Jeff Gilbreath is the Acting Executive Director of Hawaiian Community Assets, the group that brought together approximately 1,500 stakeholders to formulate Maui’s housing plan.

“People are hurting. And we allowed that to happen as we see people buying property for $ 78 million, $ 45 million, $ 38 million. There is an abundance of resources. not new to Hawai’i, ”Gilbreath said.

“In the traditional Hawaiian community, you had a konohiki who managed the resources within the Ahupua’a who said, ‘Hey, there is an abundance of it here, and it is our responsibility to manage these resources in order to respond. to the needs of the whole community. “

In Maui’s plan, funds raised from an investment property tax would be used to provide housing subsidies and boost affordable housing projects by installing water, sewers and roads. Gilbreath says federal infrastructure funds could help here.

During this time, says StormoGipson, we have witnessed a disturbing phenomenon in Hawai’i regarding the Covid pandemic. House prices rose as jobs and wages stagnated or declined.

“This is a very worrying trend because it means that the price of homes is increasingly disconnected from the wages people earn. If what you have to pay to live in a house isn’t related to wages, how are you ever going to afford to be here? ”Says StormoGipson.

On Kauaʻi, the first island to surpass the median million dollar house price, some people have concluded that the only way forward is to seek help from some of the billionaires who have recently bought homes.