New state program would give $500 a month for rent

HONOLULU – New pessimism over the the economy has experts now saying thousands more people could face eviction this year. A nonprofit that focuses on affordable housing for state residents estimates 50,000 to 60,000 renters are now affected by unemployment, and that puts their housing situation at risk.and that puts their housing situation at risk.

Waikiki renter Maddison Moliga is one of them. “I will be homeless because I won’t be able to pay my rent,” she says about her worst nightmare.

Now, laid off from her job as a server at The Cheesecake Factory, she’s relying on government help. “I get $285 a week from unemployment insurance and the extra $600 a week from the CARES Act,” she shares.

She was homeless once before. “I would be constantly be moving around making makeshift houses,” she tells me about that horrible experience, hoping never to repeat it. Moliga is one of an estimated tens of thousands of renters housing advocates like Kenna Stormogipson worry about.

Stormogipson is a Policy and Data Analyst at Hawai’i Budget and Policy Center, a research arm of The Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. “A whole bunch of folks after July 31 are going to have a real reduction in their unemployment benefits. When that happens, they’re not going to be able to pay their bills like they used to,” she warns.

The $600 weekly federal boost to unemployment benefits ends on July 31. The federal Paycheck Protection Program ends on August 8, which could mean layoffs or furloughs. “They’re just not going to be able to pay rent and groceries, gas, living expenses, when next month they’re getting a much lower unemployment check,” predicts Stormogipson

That’s why Stormogipson hopes the Governor signs into law the newly passed Housing Relief and Resiliency program (SB126), which would give everyone on unemployment $100 a week on top of what they’re already getting, and $500 a month just for rent assistance, directly paid to the landlord. Both provisions last from August to December 2020. You would get the extra $100 automatically added to your unemployment check, but renters have to apply for the rent assistance portion.

The Governor’s office updates KITV4 that the bill, which the Legislature passed on June 26, still not signed; it is currently undergoing legal and departmental reviews.

“It’s really critical renters access the program. We don’t want people to get kicked out, or landlords to get frustrated. We don’t want folks to not be able to pay their rent,” she says.

Kenna says this is the typical unemployed renter profile:

Income before pandemic: $36,000 a year
Take home pay: $2,300 a month (after taxes)
Rent and utilities: 1,400 a month
Amount for groceries, clothes, car etc after housing: $900 a month

Monthly unemployment benefits after July 31st: $1,380
Extra $100 week from state: $400 total for the month
Take home pay approx.: $1,800 a month
Rent and utilities: $1,400 a month
Amount for groceries, clothes, car etc after housing: $400 a month

“Their biggest expense is rent,” she points out. “If this renter has a medical bill or has to fix their car they won’t be able to pay rent and also buy groceries.”

Not to mention what happens when the Governor’s moratorium on evictions ends on September 1. “When the eviction moratorium ends, then we’ll see an avalanche of evictions,” Stormogipson projects. (Moratorium language on pages 11, 12, 28.)

Stormogipson wants to prevent evictions, which she says would worsen the health and housing crisis. “You’d see more homelessness, people deciding to double and triple up. Having more people crowded together in tight living conditions – that’s not going to help you with the pandemic.”

Molina says she’s looking for all the help she can get, to keep a roof over her head.