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Building the Foundation for a Stable Community

Hawaiian Community Assets Financial Opportunity Center on Maui
November 3, 2020

Ivory Gilmore’s family has lived in Lahaina for generations. She works for Maui County, and has never been unemployed. But Gilmore and her children have still had homeless years, and hungry times—in part because Maui’s housing costs have become some of the most unaffordable in the nation. She knew many people were leaving the island, but was reluctant to go: “Our family ties are very connected to Maui. My kids only know Maui—I only know Maui.”

The situation changed for this single mom and her family three years ago, when her name was drawn in the Habitat for Humanity Maui lottery. For Gilmore, it came in the nick of time, just as she had decided that eventually she was going to have to move away. In Maui County, there are thousands of people like Ivory Gilmore. The coronavirus is poised to make things even harder for them—but it can also be the catalyst for powerful creative partnerships. Maui County, Hawai‘i Community Foundation and Hawaiian Community Assets (HCA) have announced a three-year program that will help 3,000 Maui residents qualify for affordable rentals and mortgage financing. HCA, Hawai‘i’s largest HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development)- certified housing counseling agency will establish Maui’s first Financial Opportunity Center (FOC), a proven way to provide people with the support and knowledge they need for financial stability.

FOCs are a one-stop-shop for a complex array of financial services and knowledge under one roof, helping families navigate resources they may not have known about. Lahela Williams, the Executive Director for HCA, says that in Hawai‘i’s case, FOCs can integrate housing counseling, mortgage lending services, and entrepreneur coaching. The challenges facing Maui residents are great, but Williams says that a public-private partnership, coalesced in time of crisis, can create powerful momentum for positive change: “What’s different about this initiative is that we’ve got the County and HCF at the table, too. There are all these different sectors and key stakeholders that are engaged, and ready to do something about it.”

“We don’t want our economy to return to ‘normal’ after COVID-19 has left our islands,” says Maui Mayor Mike Victorino. “Because ‘normal’ doesn’t work for the Maui residents who are living on the edge of poverty and homelessness even as they work multiple jobs.”

Being able to afford housing can lift up a whole community, adds Williams. “The more foundations we get under folks, the more stable the community becomes.”

Hawaiian Community Assets Financial Opportunity Center on Maui