By Marissa Florio, J.D. ’16
I spent this January term interning at the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice, a public interest law firm in Honolulu that focuses on policy reform related to local and state concerns. One such concern is the great homelessness problem in the state of Hawaii: Hawaii has the highest per capita homelessness rate in America. I spent my internship researching shallow rent subsidies as a potential partial solution to the state homelessness crisis. Rent subsidies have been shown to be one of the most effective ways of reducing homelessness. Most rent subsidy programs in place in the United States offer “deep” subsidies and are extremely expensive (e.g. Section 8). In order to reach the greatest amount of people, a more shallow subsidy program has been introduced in several municipalities. The appeal of these shallower subsidies, which offer lower amounts, is that they can reach more families with less money and that they can target a different audience: the working poor, rather than the homeless.
Notably, the federal government, through HUD, funded shallow rent subsidy programs nationwide for three years through their Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP). HPRP was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and dispersed $1.5 billion in federal grants to shallow rent subsidy programs across the United States to combat the effects of the economic depression in the United States from 2009 to 2012. HPRP effectively prevented homelessness in a period of economic downturn. In the period from 2009 to 2011, homelessness decreased by 1% in the United States.
Over the course of my three weeks at Hawaii Appleseed, I explored what shallow subsidy programs exist in other states, compiling information on the number of participants reached, the eligibility requirements for each program, amount of each subsidy, length of each subsidy, funding sources, and any available information on the efficacy of each program. I then used these programs as models to design a recommended program to potentially implement in the state, taking into account best practices and the unique needs in Hawaii. My research and proposal will be used this legislative session to help spark debate and action on the funding and implementation of a shallow rent subsidy program.