Friday, February 13, 2009

SENATE PANEL JUST SAYS NO TO NO HUD

SENATE PANEL JUST SAYS NO TO NO HUD: Senate Bill 456 to ban discrimination against source of income in housing and real estate- and stop those “No HUD” advertisements for rental units- passed it’s first hurdle today when it was unanimously passed out of State Senator Roz Baker’s Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, headed for another hearing in the Judiciary Committee, according to Anne Punohu of the Kauai Fair Housing Law Coalition.

And if the amount of supporting testimony is any indication Punohu, the bill’s chief and original proponent, has certainly stuck a nerve with not just HUD recipients and the community in general but even elected officials from our local council all the way to congress.

Hawai`i US Congressmember Neil Abercrombie’s joined Kaua`i Councilmembers Lani Kawahara, Dickie Chang and Derek Kawakami and Tim Bynum in submitting written testimony and former Kaua`i Mayor and Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura made the trip over to Honolulu with Punohu’s daughter and a friend in tow to give her testimony in person.

In addition testimony in support was received from such diverse groups as
-The Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission
-The Institute for Human Services
- Kaua`i Agency on Elderly Affairs (Ludvina K. Takahasi)
-The Legal Aid Society of Hawai`i (Jennifer La’a, Fair Housing Program Manager)
-Malama Kaua`i (Andrea Brower, Project Manager and Keone Kealoha, Executive Director and
-The Kaua`i Food Bank, Inc, (Wendi Rusaw Food Stamp Outreach Coordinator)

The only negative testimonies were from Chad K. Taniguchi of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority who said they prefer the apparently failed policy of “negotiating” with landlords, Coral Wong Pietsch, Chair of the Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission which worried that they would have to enforce the law and, predictably, the O`ahu chapter of the National Association of Residential Property managers who apparently would like to continue their discriminatory practices.

In addition testimony was received from
-Brad Parsons
-Healani Akau
-Puanani Rogers
-Jeff Sacher
-Judy Dalton
-Katy Rose
-Lani Rae Suiso Garcia
-Loren
-Tracey Schavone
-Trisha Kehaulani Watson
-R. E. Flora
-John Constantino
-Sam Goldberg
-Marina Mireles
-Jordan Grainger
-Shanarae Kaulananapuaikaikamaolino Donovan
and of course Anne Punohu for the Kauai Fair Housing Law Coalition

We’ll try to find out more about how the hearing went and what to expect next week but today we’re going to present and excerpt some of today’s testimony.

-----------

Testimony of U.S. Representative Neil Abercrombie

I am writing in support of SB 456. relating to "source of income' discrimination.

It's no secret that we have a housing crisis in Hawaii. Property values remain high making the average working family--even with two salaries--unable to afford a median-priced home. Homeless estimates in our state start at 15,000 people, but may increase under a newer definition of "homeless" that can include two, three or more families who are forced to live in the same house.

At the same time, landlords are closing their doors to individuals and families that qualify for government assistance programs, like Section 8 or Housing Choice vouchers. From January to March 2008, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated that only 710/. of Housing Choice Vouchers were being utilized. Many families who had Section 8 vouchers either couldn't find or were denied qualified housing and remained in crowded or unacceptable living conditions.

To protect the civil liberties of everyone seeking decent shelter and a place to call home, legislation to add "source of income" protection to our fair housing laws is vital. SB456 will help to provide improved access to housing for many individuals like seniors collecting social security; single parents receiving child support; veterans being paid for military service; and individuals with a chronic disease getting government assistance. SB456 is an equitable and just step in the effort to increase housing availability and improve our fair housing laws.

I urge Chair Baker, Vice-Chair Ige and the members of the Senate Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee to support 8B456 and the enforcement of fair housing practices for all. Mahalo for your time and consideration.

Testimony of former Kaua`i Mayor and Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura

Chair Baker and Members of the Committee,

Thank you for this opportunity to testify.

I speak in favor of SB 456. I want to thank Senator Hooser who introduced this bill and Annie Punohu for initiating this effort. Annie is a courageous and passionate single mother of two beautiful girls. She has been homeless herself in the past and knows first hand what it is like to struggle against discrimination. Annie Punohu is not able to be here today, but representing her is her lovely soon-to-be 17-year old daughter, Kaulana, who will be testifying. Kaulana is a participant in the Leadership Kaua`i youth program. Also testifying from Kaua`i is Pua Vidinha. We feel very privileged to be able to speak before you.

Last month, we all celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. A week after Dr. King was tragically assassinated in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress as a way to honor and advance Dr. King’s agenda for freedom and equality.


Today, over forty years later, we still struggle to make Dr. King’s dream a realty. Against the reality of his time, he saw people finding decent housing and living in good neighborhoods no matter what their race, source of legal income, sex or age.

SB 456 would help move us in this direction.

Let us be clear what SB 456 does and doesn’t do.

SB 456 prohibits discrimination against renters based on source of legal income. In all likelihood, the greatest impact of this bill will be to stop overt discrimination. Covert discrimination will be harder to detect, prove or stop, though if enough proof is amassed, it will be possible. But stopping overt discrimination itself will have benefits! It will set the tone. It will make clear to all what is not acceptable. It will at least allow HUD voucher holders to go through the process of applying, which in and For example, it prohibits a landlord or realtor from refusing to accept applications for rental units based on categories of income—such as HUD vouchers, social security or SSI payments, etc. It will prevent landlords and realtors from advertising rentals with outright prohibitions against HUD voucher applicants, which essentially stops them from even applying. It will also prevent some landlords who don’t understand what HUD is, from stating in their ads that they won’t accept HUD voucher applications, simply because “that’s what other landlords are doing.” of itself, could help the landlord see an applicant as an individual rather than a stereotype. Apparently, in states where a law similar to SB 456 is in place, HUD voucher holders seem to have a better rate of finding housing.


What SB 456 does not do is to dictate that a landlord must rent to a certain HUD voucher holder.

In other states, where there are laws similar to SB 456 in place, overt discrimination is clearly reduced. This bill will not solve all problems of housing discrimination, but it will help to create a more even playing field for renters—especially those in the lower incomes who have struggled to find decent housing and who sometimes become the homeless.

It will not prohibit landlords from refusing to rent to individual
applicants based on past performance, bad references, bad payment records. Please see section 4 of Bill 456 on page 10, which allows a landlord to make an evaluation of a potential renter’s ability to pay and stability.

It is Time to Stop Overt Discrimination against Certain Legal Sources of Income

It is clear that we need this law on Kaua`i. A survey of classified ads in the local paper, The Garden Island shows that overt discrimination against HUD voucher holders is significant. While some argue that the slowing economy will make such a law unnecessary because we are moving toward a “renters” market, the slow economy is also creating more people with financial, and consequently, housing problems. So the problem of accessing affordable housing remains even in the slow economy.

Furthermore, the “down” economy will not last forever. We are all familiar with the “boom and bust” cycles that occur in Hawai`i’s economy periodically, and we must be prepared for the return of the terrible affordable housing stresses that we recently experienced over the past 5-6 years of a boom economy.


HUD voucher holders are not the only ones who will be protected. Elderly, who are growing in proportion to population, and the disabled will also be protected against landlords who discriminate against limited income sources such as social security or SSI.

Please pass this law which will prohibit, and which has been shown to effectively prevent, overt discrimination based on income categories such as HUD vouchers. It will increase the chances for law-abiding, sincere, often hard-working families and single people to access affordable housing in Hawai`i.


Testimony Of Kaua`i councilmember Lani Kawahara (with similar testimony from Councilmembers Tim Bynum, Dickie Chang and Derek Kawakami)

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony on S.B. No. 456 relating to discrimination in real property transactions based on lawful sources of income. My testimony is submitted as an individual Kaua`i County Councilmember.

The purpose of this bill is to prohibit discrimination based on a lawful source of income in real estate transactions, including advertisements of available rental units. Currently, the State of Hawai`i does not prohibit discrimination in its advertisements of real estate based on a lawful source of income.

I support the concept of prohibiting discrimination in real estate transactions and advertising and feel that people with any lawful source of income should be given the opportunity to apply for housing. It is unfair that people who participate in government assistance programs are not allowed a chance to apply for rentals because of discrimination in classified ads. Many people who participate in government assistance programs already suffer economic hardships that make it difficult to acquire affordable housing and they should not have to endure additional challenges in trying to provide for themselves and their families.

For the reasons stated above, I support S.B. No. 456 in concept and humbly request your further consideration of this measure.


Testimony of Mr. John Constantino, Single Parent and Displaced Homemaker Coordinator, Kaua`i Community College, Bridge to Hope Coordinator, Assistant Professor in Counseling and Advising, Kaua`i Fair Housing Law Coalition

I am in support of SB456, and HB 1274 that would prohibit landlords from discriminating against potential tenants based on the source of their income. As a counselor and coordinator to Single Parents and Displaced Homemakers, I have seen my fair share of students who have faced discrimination and humiliation.

Decent housing is a fundamental right. The protection of the human dignity of every person and the right to a decent home require both individual action and structural policies and practices. Our concern is not simply for houses or programs but for the people who inhabit these dwellings or are affected by these programs. The statistics are not simply numbers or points on a graph; they are individual human tragedies.

Governor Linda Lingle has estimated that as many as 15,000 people may be homeless in our state. According to a recent national study, in regards to housing discrimination faced by Asians and Pacific Islanders, the discrimination rates held at 37% percent, the same rate as for African Americans. The statistics in large part came from the State of Hawai`i. HUD Choice Voucher lists are currently closed on O`ahu, due to not enough people moving off the lists to make way for new people to sign up. Reports have been stated that up to 60% percent of individuals who obtained HUD Choice Vouchers were unable to use them. Not because they suddenly found a rental on their own, or came into a lot of money but because they simply could not find a rental that, in many cases would accept HUD Choice Vouchers.

These households are real families experiencing the tragedies of homelessness or inadequate housing. The households are made up of parents and children, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews. Each is affected by their family’s difficulty in affording an adequate place to live. Adults worry about how to pay utility, clothing, and food bills when the great majority of their income goes toward rent. When they can’t pay their rent, they strategize on moving between hotels, friends’ sofas, and shelters. Children suffer from exposure to unsafe and unstable living conditions.

I believe that one of government’s primary responsibilities is to ensure that the most basic needs of its people are met. In the United States, our federal government does this, in part, through the Section 8 Rental Choice Voucher Program. Hawaii serves the housing needs of its lowest‐income residents through the State’s Rental Allowance Program. However, though a family may be successful in accessing assistance through Section 8, or some other program, in most parts of Hawaii, they face yet another hurdle in their search for housing. Hawaii residents receiving housing assistance are often discriminated against in their search for housing. It is common to see newspaper or internet ads that contain the words, “No Section 8.” It is more common for low‐income Hawaii residents to hear this refrain when they inquire into available housing. Such discrimination is also faced by people who base their income, in part or in total, on disability assistance, cash assistance, child support, or alimony. To anyone who encounters it, the discrimination is frustrating and demoralizing. Individuals and families having the lawful means to rent or buy housing should not be denied that housing based on where those means come from. Those with the income, credit-worthiness, and other applicable credentials to rent or buy – the single mom depending on child-support payments, the low‐income family depending on a Section 8 voucher, the man depending on disability assistance, the elderly couple depending on a pension – none should be denied the opportunity to rent or buy because their incomes don’t come entirely from a job.

Recognizing housing as a fundamental human right, and also the severe hardships – including discrimination – low‐income Hawaii residents face in finding housing they can afford, I respectfully ask that you give SB456 a favorable report.


Testimony of Sam Goldberg, 5th Grade Student in the class of teacher Suzanne Messinger, Kula Elementary, Kilauea, Hawaii with similar 6th Grader Marina Mireles and 5th Grader Jordan Grainger

Aloha, my name is Sam Goldberg. I am fifth grader at Kula Elementary in Kilauea, Kauai. My class, my teacher and I would like to express our support for Senate Bill 456.

A couple months ago, Suzanne took our class to the Eco-Roundtable in Lihue. It was there, that we met a motivated woman who taught us the difference between equal and unequal housing. We also learned a lot about HUD. We hope that Senate Bill 456 will guarantee that people who qualify for HUD are not discriminated against when they try to rent a house on Kauai.

During the past two months our teacher has been helping us to learn more about discrimination, human rights prejudice and segregation in our inquiry unit called “Fair Play for All.” When studying the history of prejudice in America from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, I was mortified by the hateful and unfair treatment of people in our country. People like Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King, Jr., have shown us that change is possible and all people should be treated equally.

When I learned that some families on our island who have lower incomes then others are not able to rent a house as easy as a family with more money, I became angry and confused. How could this discrimination still be happening today? We found out that there are people who work hard, but because they received HUD could not find a house to rent. We think all people on Kauai should have an equal opportunity to rent a house as long as they work hard and pay their bills.

I am writing to you because I believe in this issue. Suzanne inspires us to try to do something about what we believe in. She says, kids have important ideas and strong voices and we should take action when we feel frustrated. I, Sammy, believe in Senate Bill 456. I strongly feel that all people on Kauai are equal and should be treated fairly. If someone who gets HUD is able to pay rent, they should be able to rent a house just as easy as someone who does not. I am so thankful for my home here in Kilauea. I want to live in a place where all people are treated equally and there is no prejudice. Please try to stop this discrimination. Please listen to what I am saying, because it truly means a lot to me.

Testimony of Shanarae Kaulananapuaikaikamaolino Donovan Age 17

Aloha. My name is Shanarae Kaulananapuaikaikamaolino Donovan, and I am the daughter of Anne Punohu, who started the Kauai Fair Housing Law Coalition Kauai, and I am here to testify on her behalf, and also to represent the children's side of this issue. I will be 17 in a few days, and I will be able to vote for the first time in the next election in Hawaii. As a future voter, and a child who has been homeless before, I can tell you that it is very hard to see our parents when they try to get a place to live, and cant because people say no. If you have a HUD Voucher, it takes a long time to get one. At first your parents can be very exited to go out and find a rental. Maybe they will find a house with a yard, and maybe the kids can have their own rooms. Maybe there will be a nice kitchen where you can cook your food, and a bathroom with a nice, hot shower. Those are the things you think about when you are homeless and a kid. You are not thinking about how you can damage the house, you think about how you can fix it up nice.

All your parents can think about is us kids being safe, and your mom, being able to sleep finally because she doesn't have to keep one eye open all the time, because when you are homeless your parents will never sleep so they can protect you. Its also easier to keep your job, because you can stay cleaner and get more rest and eat better. So, after you are all exited, your parents are all exited, reality sets in. Your parents start to make phone calls and look in the newspaper. Sometimes you help them. And then you see the ads that say: NO HUD. Your parents make phone calls, and start to hear all of the excuses over the phone, some are not very nice. Some people tell our parents they don't rent to HUD, because HUD people will trash their house, or they don't want kids there, or they just don't want HUD people there, or their house is not going to pass a HUD inspection. After awhile, everyone starts to get sad, and cranky, and stressed out. Soon, our parents know their time to find a rental will run out. Soon, they will lose the voucher, and we will have to stay homeless even longer. Sometimes kids have a real hard time being homeless, but our parents are the ones that have it even harder, because they are trying so hard, but they cant find places to rent. I think that is wrong. I think its morally wrong, and I think its against human rights. Everyone has the right to a decent, safe house to live in, even if you are poor, even if you are disabled, even if you need help to pay for your rent, even if you may not be perfect. People who have places for rent, should not be able to discriminate against people just because sometimes help is needed to pay for the rent. Think about all of the children who you are turning away. Think of all those great people you didn't even give a chance to apply for your rental. Most of us kids, who have been homeless have really great parents, they try really hard and do their best. But everything is so expensive. I am born and raised here, and I feel that people that are from here should not have to leave, so that other people can move here and get the rentals because they don't need help. They get to live inside, while the rest of us have to live outside, just because we don't matter or count as much as they do. We are not as good as them.

I think that is very wrong. My mom, and my sister and I have a place to live. But lots of other people don't. That’s because they cant find anywhere they can afford. If they get help so that they can get a place, they should have a chance to get it. Its not right to have it legal that you don't even have to give them a chance.

That’s why my mom asked Senator Hooser if he would be willing to write a bill to stop this, and he did.

In the house, Representatives Mina Morita, Representatives Har, Herkes, Chang, Cabanilla and Tokioka introduced a mirror bill in the house called HB1274. My mom made phone calls and emails to everyone and got people to send in testimony. Joann Yukimura paid for me to come today, and my Auntie Pua is here too. There are a lot of people who support this bill.

Our new President, Barack Obama, said this about equal rights, and civil rights. He said:

The teenagers and college students who left their homes to march in the streets of Birmingham and Montgomery; the mothers who walked instead of taking the bus after a long day of doing somebody else's laundry and cleaning somebody else's kitchen – they didn't brave fire hoses and Billy clubs so that their grandchildren and their greatgrandchildren would still wonder at the beginning of the 21st century whether their vote would be counted; whether their civil rights would be protected by their government; whether justice would be equal and opportunity would be theirs.... We have more work to do."

-- Barack Obama, Speech at Howard University, September 28, 2007

1 comment:

Katy Rose said...

Thanks for following this, Andy.