Easing housing
crisis must include
affordable rentals


A report places Hawaii as one of the least affordable states for rental units among those who earn minimum wages.

A NATIONAL report presents another frame in the bleak landscape of housing needs in Hawaii, this time regarding rental units.

As Governor Lingle and the state lawmakers prepare for the legislative session next month, finding ways to produce less expensive housing for both renters and would-be home owners should be at the top of their agenda.

The report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, an advocacy group that focuses on affordable housing, shows that a minimum wage earner in Hawaii can pay no more than $325 a month, rent near impossible to find except for single rooms in boarding facilities.

A low-income household in Hawaii, generally one with $18,953 in annual income, can afford rent of no more than $474, while fair market rent a for two-bedroom unit is nearly twice as much, at $915.

To pay for a two-bedroom rental unit, a typical worker in Hawaii must make at least $17.60 an hour in a state where the minimum wage is $6.25. When broken down by individual counties, the report found that the pay a worker in Honolulu must earn jumps to $18.37 an hour, reflecting the high cost and demand for housing in the city.

At minimum wage, a worker must put in 80 hours a week to make enough money for studio rental, 93 hours for a one-bedroom unit and 113 hours for two bedrooms. Even in a household with two wage-earners, such long hours mean each would have to take on part-time work as well as a full-time job. This, unfortunately, is not unusual in Hawaii.

Hawaii has seen home sale prices skyrocket in recent years. Landlords who had rented their properties when the market was depressed have been selling instead and those who haven't can now demand higher returns, leaving low-income residents with fewer options.

Meanwhile, homelessness has increased to more than 6,000 people, according to a 2003 state survey.

High housing costs and homelessness have been chronic problems in Hawaii. It appears the governor and key legislators have recognized the issues can no longer be set aside. Lingle says she will fast-track construction of 17,000 subsidized rental units on state-owned land and lawmakers have similarly pledged their attention.

Considering strong revenue projections for the state and Hawaii's growing economy, those on the lowest rungs should not be left behind.

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