Tyrone Spellman knows firsthand how important it is to have a place to call home: He’s had to move more than 20 times in the past two decades. “I know what it’s like to not feel safe, secure and stable—and I’m certainly not alone,” he said. “Everyone deserves to feel safe and secure.”

Spellman was one of several panelists who spoke during the third annual Maui County Landlord Summit on Wednesday, July 24, at the Maui Beach Hotel in Kahului. Property owners and property managers were invited to attend the free event, which was underwritten by RAM, to learn how they can reduce homelessness by making more rentals available to those who need them the most.

Finding safe and affordable housing on Maui is a significant hurdle for low-income and homeless individuals and families. While they may be approved for a subsidized housing program through a local nonprofit agency or have a Section 8 voucher, many face the difficulty of finding a landlord who will approve their rental application. With that in mind, RAM joined forces with the County of Maui, the Office of the Governor and several social service agencies for a third time to bring landlords and property managers into the same room as the agencies that assist Maui’s housing-challenged residents.

This year’s summit began with some encouraging news from Emma Grochowsky on behalf of Scott Morishige, the governor’s coordinator on homelessness. For the second year in a row, she said, Hawaii’s homeless count has decreased statewide, according to the Point-in-Time count survey conducted by Bridging the Gap and Partners in Care, a homelessness coalition. The survey found that there was a nearly 10 percent decrease in homeless individuals statewide—from 7,220 in 2017 to 6,530 in 2018.

The announcement was followed by a series of moderated panel discussions and question-and-answer sessions featuring legal experts, landlords, tenants and representatives from agencies that provide financial support and other services to Maui’s housing-challenged residents.

In the first panel discussion of the day, RAM Government Affairs Director Lawrence Carnicelli and Legal Aid Society of Hawaii staff attorney Ben Pittenger answered audience members’ questions about landlord and tenant rights. A second panel discussion featured representatives from nine local social service agencies; they fielded a number of questions regarding the services their respective agencies provide. The third panel was composed of Maui landlords and tenants who shared their experiences.

Jessmine Kim was honored as this year’s “Housing Hero” by the Maui Homeless Alliance. The “Housing Hero” award is given to a landlord or property manager who actively works with social service agencies to find rentals for individuals and families who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless. Kim spent a decade on the mainland working as a senior associate with Coldwell Banker Real Estate before moving home to Hawaii three-and-a-half years ago to help out with her family’s business. Her family owns 15 different properties on Maui and a third of their portfolio is multifamily properties and residential homes. Kim has successfully housed a number of clients affiliated with HUD, Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) and the Family Life Center. She was acknowledged for her willingness to help those in need and for maintaining partnerships with housing assistance programs.

At the end of the day, landlords and property managers left with the information and tools they need to make a difference. “If we have one landlord create one more relationship with any one of these services, this [summit] is a win,” Carnicelli said. “If we could get one more landlord to understand what all of these wonderful services are and get one more person housed, it’s a win for all of us.”

Participants in this year’s Maui County Landlord Summit included RAM, the Office of the Governor, Office of the Mayor, Maui County Department of Housing and Human Concerns, Maui Homeless Alliance, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, Family Life Center, Catholic Charities Hawaii, Mental Health Kokua, Women Helping Women, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Salvation Army, Asian Real Estate Association of America, Aloha Independent Living, Housing Choice Voucher Program, Steadfast Housing Development Corporation and Maui Economic Opportunity, Inc.

By Sarah Ruppenthal
The Maui News – August 11, 2018

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