Homeless issue demands action, not politicking
Star-Adv May 17, 2015: Typical political reactions should not be in play when we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of people literally living on the streets. Yet Oahu taxpayers continue to be subjected to petty politics, especially at the municipal level.
The Honolulu City Council Budget Committee rejected Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s reasonable request to fund staffing for the fledgling Office of Strategic Development, tasked with fast-tracking development of affordable housing and units for the Housing First program, which shelters the chronically homeless.
The committee refused to restore $616,000 in funding for those seven contractual-hire positions in the $2.3 billion operating budget, but allocated $130,000 from its own Council budget to hire two homeless-housing experts to directly advise Council members.
The last thing this island needs is a turf war between the City Council and the mayor’s office over who gets to “solve” the homeless crisis. It is going to take all hands on deck — at the state and federal levels, too — working together toward lasting solutions.
A cohesive, long-term strategy is essential. Whether our elected officials have the ability to marshal the community in this way is a true test of leadership.
If Council Chairman Ernie Martin, who pushed for the two Council-affiliated housing coordinator positions and is expected to run for mayor in 2016, aspires to be such a leader, and to be seen as one, he should acknowledge that the mayor’s funding request was reasonable and persuade fellow Council members to restore the money. The Council can do so via a floor amendment on June 3, the day the final vote on the budget is scheduled.
read ... Homeless issue demands action, not politicking
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Caldwell: I will Make Kakaako a Homeless Tent City Unless Council Funds 'Positions'
HNN May 11, 2015: Caldwell has admitted the city's approach to ending homelessness in Kaka'ako is not working. (Lie #1. Caldwell is suddenly claiming "this city's approach is not working" as part of a game of chicken with the Council. If the Council caves, Caldwell will just as suddenly discover that the city's approach is working after all.)
Since the sidewalk nuisance and stored property ordinances went into effect, the city has spent approximately $1,875,000 enforcing them.
"A year ago we put into place our compassionate disruption bills. We instituted sit-lie bills to move people out of Waikiki, out of Downtown, out of Chinatown -- but we didn't give them a place to go," said City Managing Director Roy Amemiya.... (Lie #2. There are shelter spaces open every night. Translation: The Council needs to give me the funding I want or I will keep depositing homeless people around town.)
The Mayor's office says enforcement has out-paced housing availability for the homeless, (note: 'Housing availability' and 'shelter space' are two different things.) which is why he's requested $616,000 dollars to cover the cost of seven full-time positions to work on affordable housing projects designed to get people off the streets.... (Yes. Caldwell is using the homeless as pawns for a measly $616K in funding.)
"They've cut our staff that we've asked for to do this and in turn they've added staff to their legislative side to deal with policy. It's beyond policy at this point. It's about action. We need those people to find units to move the folks in Kaka'ako into shelter and into permanent supportive housing. This is the compassionate side to our compassionate disruption program," Caldwell said. (And if you don't give me what I want, I will send the homeless to your district.)
Right now, Amemiya's staff is currently being paid through Housing and Urban Development grants and salary savings -- but he says that funding will not be available next year.
read ... Mayor ends Kaka'ako homeless sweeps
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Mayor Caldwell urges Budget Committee to restore critical affordable housing strategic development funding; committee fails to act
News Release from Office of the Mayor May 12, 2015
Honolulu – Mayor Caldwell sent a letter to the Committee on Budget yesterday urging the City Council to restore $616,488 in funding critical to the city’s efforts to develop transitional and supportive housing for the homeless.
During a hearing today, the Budget Committee failed to act in one of its final opportunities to restore the funding. Now, only an amendment before the full council can restore the funds prior to final approval of the budget next month.
The funding was requested by the Caldwell Administration for the staffing of the Office of Strategic Development (OSD). “The members of this office are the backbone of the City’s efforts in developing transitional and supportive shelter for the homeless,” the letter notes. Without the funding, the Administration will be forced to eliminate seven critical positions needed to develop housing, which will mean laying off three current employees.
The council cut $616,488 for these OSD staff positions that are needed “to secure the sites, procure and negotiate the contracts, coordinate design and permitting, oversee the development or restoration of the units, supervise the populating and management of those units, and report to the Mayor and the Council.” At the same time, the council added $130,000 to increase its own policy staff budget.
As the council cuts the OSD positions, it is approving significant increases for homeless housing development totaling $32 million in Fiscal Year 2015 and $32 million proposed for the following year. “How can we explain to the public that we will fund the capital side of the equation, but will let go the people who know how to make housing for the homeless happen?” Mayor Caldwell asks in the letter.
Last Thursday the Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial board supported restoration of the funds in an editorial entitled “Politics plagues housing initiatives.” The newspaper referred to the decision to cut the funds as “snakebitten by politics,” noting the Council Chair’s political ambitions as motivation for cutting the funds, and saying “That rivalry is playing out in the current budget battles on several fronts, but the fight over funding for low-cost housing initiatives may be the most tragic example, one that leaves more people living on the streets.”
Mayor Caldwell’s letter is copied below:
May 11, 2015
The Honorable Ann H. Kobayashi, Chair and Members
Committee on Budget, Honolulu City Council
Dear Chair Kobayashi and Members:
As you and I have discussed a number of times, as recently as this past Friday, my Administration strongly endorses the restoration of $616,488 for the staffing of the Office of Strategic Development. The members of this office are the backbone of the City’s efforts in developing transitional and supportive shelter for the homeless.
It is irresponsible for the Council to cut such key Administration staffing and at the same time provide significant increases in the Capital Budget for homeless housing development ($32 million in FY15 and $32 million proposed for FY16). Someone needs to secure the sites, procure and negotiate the contracts, coordinate design and permitting, oversee the development or restoration of the units, supervise the populating and management of those units, and report to the Mayor and the Council. How can we explain to the public that we will fund the capital side of the equation, but will let go the people who know how to make housing for the homeless happen?
It is equally bewildering for the Council to fund increased staffing for the Council in the area of homeless policy making, yet cut positions in the Administration who were specifically hired to put people in homes.
In only four months, this current team of three professionals has:
1) identified and will shortly move forward on several sites suitable for homeless shelter development,
2) conceptualized and put out to bid two small demonstration projects soliciting new approaches to homeless shelter products,
3) taken over a number of projects, including the River Street senior affordable rental housing project and the Sand Island transition housing project increasing the likelihood of bringing those project to successful completion,
4) started the due diligence on a minimum of three new and significant homeless solutions, and
5) taken on the task of writing new policy and administrative protocol for consolidating City asset management in one entity.
We are talking about a highly skilled and experienced team that the Council seems ready to jettison before they have had a chance to be successful. I don’t understand the wisdom of not funding their positions.
I have heard the argument that there are others in the Administration that can do the work. Building for the homeless is not work that can be done “between tasks”. And it is not work that can be done by those not trained and experienced in developing and managing housing. Addressing the issues of homeless development is a serious mission requiring dedicated professionals.
I would ask that your committee see the problem in the same light as we do and restore these necessary funds.
Kirk Caldwell, Mayor