- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii lawmakers are trying to chip away at the waitlist for public housing with a bill that would encourage savings and limit the number of years tenants could stay.

There were 13,706 people on the statewide public housing waitlist for state and federal housing as of Monday, said Dawn Takeuchi Apuna, chief planner for the Hawaii Public Housing Authority. It can take up to six years to get to the top of the list, she said.

During a hearing Monday, the House Housing Committee approved the bill and dropped the number of years a tenant in the program could stay in public housing from seven to five.

Tenants who agreed to the five-year limit would get priority on the waitlist and have their monthly rent frozen, instead of tying rent to their income.

The housing authority would also contribute funding to savings accounts that tenants could set up to help pay for housing after the rental term is up. If passed, the housing authority could renovate the unit before the tenant moved in.

Lawmakers also changed the bill so seniors and disabled people could participate in some incentives without agreeing to the time limit.

“Multigenerational public housing is an issue that truly should be addressed and is one on the main reasons for long waitlists,” said Hakim Ouansafi, executive director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority.

He said the bill would incentivize tenants to be financially responsible and save for future housing.

Affordable housing advocates say the bill won’t be effective in getting people out of public housing if there’s no affordable housing for them to move to.

“Until we get additional housing inventory at all levels of affordability, it doesn’t make sense to me,” said Catherine Graham, co-chair of the Housing Task Force for Faith Action for Community Equity, a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing.

A state report from 2015 says the state needs nearly 66,000 homes to meet the demand in the next 10 years.

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