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Housing advocate calls for a departure from the status quo to meet basic needs

A new housing tower is seen under construction in Honolulu on March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)
Audrey McAvoy/AP
A new housing tower is seen under construction in Honolulu on March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

In order to solve Hawaiʻi's housing and homeless crisis, the state is going to have to change the way it does things in a significant way. That’s the recommendation of Gavin Thornton, the executive director of the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice.

Thornton said that because of the state’s revenue surplus, lawmakers have deprioritized making better investments and finding ways to generate new revenue to fund affordable housing.

"Going into session, there was talk of this big budget surplus, and then there would be funding for all these important programs that people need. And at the end of session, we just didn't see that happen in a significant way," he said.

He also said Hawaiʻi has gotten used to the sight of homeless people on the streets.

"We've come to accept seeing people who are houseless on the streets, and just like drive by, avert the eyes, or whatever we do. And we've just come to accept this is the way things are. That's not the way things are everywhere. It doesn't need to be that way," he said.

"We should feel really, really uncomfortable about that — more so than we currently do. We shouldn't accept it, we just shouldn't, which is hard to do because we've lived with it for so long, but we need to shift that thinking," Thornton added.

Thornton said the state invested a billion dollars last year in affordable housing development — $600 million in the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and $400 million elsewhere — but Hawaiʻi needs to be making that kind of investment every year until the affordable housing crisis ends.

This interview aired on The Conversation on May 22, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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