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HOOSER: Take the drivel to your beer buddies

“We’re going to close up our hotel and take our business somewhere else where the taxes are lower!” said no hotel on Kaua‘i ever.

Ditto for luxury vacation rentals, and so many other property owners who don’t live here, don’t rent to local residents, and can afford to pay more.

So why is our government operating from a mindset of scarcity?

According to a recent TGI story, the County Housing Agency is asking the council for budget support for more staff to help manage the complaints and inquiries, and to prepare a comprehensive plan. Council Chair Mel Rapozo and council Member Bill De Costa, meanwhile, are pushing back against that request, and instead promoting the notion of “safe zones,” or homeless encampments run and regulated by the county.

Instead of arguing over whose idea is better, why not do both?

And then do more.

The lack of basic shelter for our residents, friends and neighbors should be declared the disaster it is, and we must use every tool available, and then go out and get more, and use them, too.

Hundreds of people are living on the streets, in the bushes, on the beach and, yes, under bridges. We have hundreds more sleeping on couches, in carports and in cars.

Yes, we need more staffing for our housing agency. And, yes, we need to support safe and sanitary temporary encampments in suitable locations because there’s literally nowhere else for people to go.

I have a friend who works full time, but because of the extreme shortage of rentals, lives in his van. Routinely, he’s awakened in the night by landowners or police and told to move along. He drives to the next side of the road sleeping spot, only to be told again a few hours later to move along. He’s not doing drugs, playing loud music or partying with friends. He’s just looking for a place to sleep.

We need to do it all, folks. We need to develop permanently affordable housing for local residents. We need to support more temporary shelters. We need a place for those sleeping in cars to park for the night. We need mental health services, addiction treatment, basic health and dental care. And our housing agency needs more staff to help manage and make all this happen.

Don’t tell me we can’t. Don’t whine about how it’s the state or federal government’s job, or the problem is too big, there’s not enough money, yada, yada, yada.

And please don’t be that ignorant fool at the table bragging about how he worked three jobs, and how he sacrificed, how he never took handouts, and how he pulled himself up by the bootstraps. If you don’t believe we have a basic human duty to help those less fortunate, just shut the front door and take the drivel to your beer buddies outside.

Eugene Tian, chief economist for the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism, reported over 40 percent of homes sold on Kaua‘i are purchased by buyers from outside the state.

We have a severe shortage of affordable housing caused by off-island investors buying up the inventory. This is the problem. The solution is building more permanently affordable housing for local residents and taxing off-island investors to pay for it. Yes, other factors must also be addressed, but the complete absence of affordable basic shelter is the fundamental problem.

The time for looking away is over. We need to own our responsibility, increase taxes on those who can afford it and don’t live here, then leverage those funds to support the shelters, build the homes and provide the services.

Trust me. Those hotels will not pack up their bags and move because taxes are too high.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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