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Difficult to Predict Economic Impact as State Eviction Moratorium Ends


Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionissued an order extending the eviction moratorium in counties with high rates of COVID-19 until Oct. 3.

Hawaiʻi’s four main counties have high or substantial ratings, according to the CDC's COVID Data Tracker. The state's eviction moratorium has been in place since April 2020, but it will end today.

Up to 20,000 local households are currently behind on their rent, according to the Census Bureau's Household Pulse Survey.

However, it's unclear if those households have received rental assistance from the government. That makes it difficult to see what the true economic impact will be once the eviction moratorium ends, said Carl Bonham, executive director of the University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization.

“There’s money available. Each of the counties has been distributing it and having a hard time catching up," Bonham said.

The federal American Rescue Plan included $166 million in rent and utility assistance for Hawai'i, according to Sen. Brian Schatz's website. It's funded by the Department of Treasury's Emergency Rental Assistance Program.

The State Legislature directed each county to appropriate those funds. Gov. David Ige also signed into law Act 57, requiring a mediation plan before a landlord can evict a tenant. The law would ease a large influx of eviction cases in the courts, and could help tenants and landlords connect to rental assistance money.

“It’s kind of interesting because, at least with what I’ve heard for Honolulu, there’s still a lot of unspent money," House Speaker Scott Saiki said. "So for some reason people are not applying at the rate that we expected.”

"I think the big problem is that we're looking at a potential to do long-term damage to our rental pool if the money isn't distributed fast enough and effectively.”
Carl Bonham, executive director, UHERO

Research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows states have spent about 10% of the rental assistance money allocated to them. But since Hawaiʻi distributed the money to the counties and each program is run by different entities, it’s difficult to track and compare spending to other states. It is also difficult how much has been appropriated to each county.

The City and County of Honolulu received $114 million, the most of any county. With its partner Catholic Charities Hawaiʻi, it has dispersed $48.4 million to 6,005 households, according to its Rental & Utility Relief Program dashboard. The city says 75% of those households made only half of Oʻahu's median income, which is less than $63,000 for a family of four.

To accommodate requests, the city has had to take applications in batches. When it first opened in April, the first 4,000 applicants shut down the system in hours. The last round received 10,000 applicants. The program is currently paused as those applicants are processed, but Mayor Rick Blangiardi said at a press conference Thursday that the city would reopen the program next week.

Hawaiʻi County has disbursed $3.5 million dollars, according to itsERA dashboard. Out of 1,406 applications received, it has approved 576. The average annual household income of those receiving funds is $27,559.

The County of Kauaʻi has received more than 1,200 applications requesting over $8.5 million in rent assistance and $440,000 in utility assistance. It has dispersed $6.1 million, and it expects the number to increase later this month and early September when it issues a second round of three-months of assistance. It does not have a public dashboard, but more information can be found at kauairenthelp.com.

Maui County has so far distributed $7.6 million to 946 applicants, according to its public dashboard. The fund started with $36 million.

UHERO’s Bonham said the situation is made worse with the current skyrocketing home and land values. The median sales price for a single-family home reached $1 million in July.

“If you’re a landlord and you've had a property that you know hasn't had rent paid on it for the last year or so, and you have an incentive to move that tenant out and sell that property," Bonham said. "I think the big problem is that we're looking at a potential to do long-term damage to our rental pool if the money isn't distributed fast enough and effectively.”

The State of Hawaii has created a resource page for tenants and landlords with links to financial assistance programs and mediation services. (Link) The CDC's eviction order currently applies to the state's four main counties — Hawaiʻi, Maui, Kauaʻi and Honolulu. However, the order only applies to people who have applied for rental assistance and meet certain financial benchmarks. The CDC recommends renters should fill out the CDC declaration form to see if they qualify. (Link)

Jason Ubay is the managing editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Send your story ideas to him at jubay@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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