100 years

Strengthening Hawai‘i’s Communities
Stories of Impact

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Zero Interest Loans Provide Security—And Hope

Hawaiian Community Assets

Struggle is nothing new for single mom Lei Agcaoili, who moved from O‘ahu to Kaua‘i, where they had few friends and no family, in order for her daughter to be closer to her dad. Housing was expensive, and so was food, transportation, and child care. It was hard to save anything from week to week, but she was proud of what she had accomplished. “We always had a roof and food,” says Agcaoili, who prizes independence and hard work. “I’ve always ensured that I create my own security and prosperity.” One of the things she values most is being able to provide a peaceful, loving and stable environment for her daughter, now six: “Kids thrive on routines and stability. I think we all do, no matter our age.”

COVID-19 rocked that precious stability. The restaurant where Agcaoili worked was forced to close its doors, and she had little prospect of finding other employment any time soon.

She turned to Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA), the state’s largest HUD-approved housing counseling agency and community lending institution. They connected her with the Kauai County Loan Program with a 0% interest rate, made possible by gifts from the County of Kaua‘i, the Chan Zuckerberg Kaua'i Community Fund and the Kauaְ‘i Strong Fund. She is using the loan to pay basics like rent, utilities, and gas.

For Agcaoili, the loan is a bridge across a pandemic-shaped abyss: “After I had gotten laid off, I was unsure of how to keep a roof over our heads,” she says. “The loan felt like a miracle.”

Hawai‘i’s 2020 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, issued by Aloha United Way, shows that Agcaoili is far from alone. In Hawai'i, 42% of households either live in poverty or are considered ALICE households—families that are employed, but still do not make enough to afford basic household expenses. Parents in ALICE households work in restaurants, hotels, transportation, and many of Hawai'i’s other hardest-hit industries.

Chanel Kuehu, community service assistant for HCA on Kaua‘i, has helped many ALICE families weather the economic effects of the pandemic. The program has provided $275,000 in 0% interest emergency loans to 72 borrowers with 182 household members. Kuehu says nearly all clients have said they will put the funds towards essentials, such as rent or mortgage, utilities, car payments, and other bills.

“It’s just been really tough for them,” says Kuehu, “but it feels good to be able to help.”

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