- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - People struggling to find housing in high-cost Hawaii will be able to apply for Section 8 housing assistance for the first time in a decade.

But Oahu residents can no longer apply to get into public housing, because the waiting list for those coveted housing slots was closed last week.

Hawaii, which has the highest rate of homelessness per capita in the nation, had closed its waiting list for the Section 8 housing assistance vouchers because thousands of people were stuck on the list for years.

For the Section 8 program, the state will begin accepting new applications online for three days starting August 16, and they’re expecting up to 12,000 applications, Gov. David Ige told reporters Wednesday. Applications will be available in 11 languages.

“A major focus of this administration is to increase housing,” Ige said. “Homelessness is connected to our ability to provide housing for our community at all levels because we don’t have enough homes for our community.”

Ige and public housing officials announced the good news about Section 8 in a press conference Wednesday, but they didn’t mention that Oahu’s public housing waiting list had been quietly closed last week.

There were more than 11,600 people on the waiting list for federal public housing in Hawaii in mid-July, and about 7,700 people on the lists for the state’s family and elderly public housing, said Keopu Reelitz, spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services. Some people may be on more than one waiting list, she said.

“Closing these lists allows us to better focus on the applicants we have,” Reelitz said.

Some consider public housing to be a more desirable program than Section 8, because public housing allows low-income residents to pay just one-third of their monthly income in rent. In Section 8, tenants get vouchers to rent from private landlords with payment assistance from the government.

Getting a Section 8 housing voucher is only half the battle. Even with a voucher, it takes time to find a landlord willing to rent to Section 8 tenants. Last year, Rep. Karl Rhoads introduced a bill to prevent landlord discrimination against Section 8 tenants, but the bill died.

“It’s such a crapshoot just to get a Section 8 voucher to start with,” Rhoads said. “It’s really frustrating for the people who get them and no one will take them.”

Landlords opposing the bill said they could make money more quickly by accepting tenants who weren’t in the program.

Ige has held “landlord summits” to encourage more to participate in the program, and he said 40 new landlords signed up after an event on the Big Island.

Officials said no one is currently on the Section 8 waiting list, which held about 5,000 people three years ago. There are 29 households who got Section 8 vouchers but are still looking for housing, Reelitz said.

The fair-market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment in Honolulu is about $1,800 a month, according to the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. Section 8 vouchers provide on average $1,000 a month, according to Barbara Arashiro, executive assistant Hawaii Public Housing Authority. She said officials hope to give out 50 vouchers in the first 30 days.

Applicants on neighbor islands are still able to apply for public housing, according to the announcement on the Public Housing Authority website.

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