Hawaii Gov. David Ige unveils $100M program to help renters affected by pandemic

Hawaii renters who are at risk of eviction due to the coronavirus pandemic may be eligible for financial help under a new $100 million rent relief and housing assistance program announced Tuesday.

“We want to keep people in their homes,” Gov. David Ige said in announcing the program at a news conference at the state Capitol. “We don’t need additional people who are homeless during this very, very difficult time.”

The new program, underwritten by federal Corona­virus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds, will provide renters with monthly rent as well as financial counseling.

Those eligible include Hawaii renters who are unemployed or partially unemployed due to the pandemic and have a household income at or below 100% of area median income. In Honolulu that’s $125,900 for a family of four.

“It’s not a grant or a loan. It’s a payment to help those at risk of eviction through no fault of their own,” said Denise Iseri-Matsubara, executive director of the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.

Under the program, payments could go as high as $2,000 per month on Oahu and $1,500 per month on the neighbor islands. Payments will go directly to landlords and can be made in lump sum amounts of up to three months at a time.

Those who have been lobbying for financial assistance for renters welcomed the effort.

Gavin Thornton, executive director of the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, said the $100 million figure is roughly in line with projections of rental assistance in the islands through the end of the year.

“The big question now is the implementation,” Thornton said in an email. “Is the process going to be easy enough to navigate to connect the available funding with the landlords and tenants that need it?”

The CARES Act money is available only through the end of December, he noted.

“It seems increasingly likely that the record level of unemployment spawned by the pandemic is not going away by the end of the year, so our state (and others) are going to need additional support from the federal government in the coming year,” Thornton said.

Last month Ige extended a statewide moratorium on evictions through the end of September.

“But we must do more to keep families in their homes,” Ige said at Tuesday’s news briefing.

The program will be administered by nonprofits Catholic Charities Hawaii and Aloha United Way.

Rob Van Tassell, Catholic Charities Hawaii CEO and president, said people are being asked to stay at home during this pandemic. “So the focus right now must be that we all have a home. This program makes a big step toward accomplishing that goal,” he said

House Speaker Scott Saiki said bringing direct relief to renters was identified early as a priority in the state Legislature and led to the creation of a House Select Committee on COVID-19 subcommittee of community leaders that originally proposed a $100 million rental assistance program.

“This program will assist renters not just with their current rent, but also with paying their back rent,” Saiki said.

Applications for assistance are now being accepted for rent payments due between Aug. 1 and Dec. 28. Details of a second phase that will cover rents and mortgages from March 1 will be announced soon, officials said.

The Hawaii Rent Relief and Housing Assistance Program is open to full-time Hawaii residents age 18 and older who have proof of valid and current tenancy for their primary residence in Hawaii and can demonstrate a loss of income directly resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

For more information, go to the program’s new website at hihousinghelp.com.

Applications are being accepted now. Call 521-HELP (4357) or 211; to apply online, visit catholiccharities hawaii.org or auw.org.