County freezes Section 8 housing applications

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Struggling with a waiting list of more than 7,000 applicants, Hawaii County has given notice that, beginning July 10, it will stop taking applications for the federally subsidized rental assistance program commonly known as Section 8.

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Struggling with a waiting list of more than 7,000 applicants, Hawaii County has given notice that, beginning July 10, it will stop taking applications for the federally subsidized rental assistance program commonly known as Section 8.

People who are already on the waiting list do not need to take any action unless their personal information changes. The freeze does not apply to the Ainakea Senior Residences project in Kapaau.

The current waiting period is more than five years, according to the county’s five-year consolidated plan, a survey of community needs and goals that is submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to receive funding from the Community Development Block Grant and HOME programs.

It’s not known how long the waiting list will remain frozen. County Office of Housing and Community Development staff will continue processing names on the list in the meantime. The freeze applies to both Housing Choice vouchers and project-based vouchers, according to legal notices placed Sunday in Big Island newspapers.

Housing Administrator Susan Akiyama emphasized that the county is not closing its Section 8 housing program. There could, however, be modifications once the waiting list resumes.

“We’re currently looking at best practices across the country,” Akiyama said. “We will certainly give the community ample time to respond to any changes.”

It’s not unheard of for counties in Hawaii to freeze their lists, said Keith Kato, executive director of Hawaii Island Community Development Corp., who has been with the organization since 1996. The agency does not administer Section 8 housing, but is familiar with the program in its role of increasing affordable housing on the island.

“They’ve done that before when the list gets extremely long,” Kato said. “The county is already adding funds. They’re doing what they can, and they have a limited amount to work with.”

All of the public housing projects on the Big Island and throughout the state are the responsibility of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, which manages 85 projects consisting of 6,196 units of public housing. The Big Island has 20 public housing projects throughout the island totaling 715 units. The occupancy rate statewide is 98 percent.

The state Section 8 waiting list is so large that it has been closed since 2006, according to the county plan. The county’s Office of Housing and Community Development manages the county’s Section 8 program.

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As of Dec. 31, there were 1,723 households being assisted with Section 8 Choice Vouchers, 153 project-based vouchers, 39 tenant-based rental assistance and 22 Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Vouchers.

The county receives approximately $2.5 million annually for CDBG projects. This year, the funds go toward eight projects, including housing rehabilitation, renovation of rental units for seniors, and rental assistance, which is similar to Section 8.

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