Skip to main content
You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Honolulu's rent and utility relief program ending as thousands of families struggle with cost of living

  • Updated
  • 0
Food bank

More and more Lei Makanani sees her elderly friends struggling to make ends meet. The most visible reminder is when shopping at their neighborhood grocery store.

"I will see them go to the cash register and when they realize that they don't have enough, they start putting it back," she said. "Most of my friends that I know of are raising their grandchildren, for whatever reason, they have mouths to feed at their age. And when I see this, it hurts."

And that might become more common.

The city's closing on June 30 the rental and utility relief program that's helped more than 12,000 local families -- and distributed more than $160 million on Oahu. Makanani applied today for help with her utilities.

"Someone has got to stop the high cost of living. This is to the point where we're bleeding," she said. "This is not the way we're supposed to live. This is supposed to be paradise."

As pandemic relief funds dry up -- and with no end in sight to the high cost of living -- many families are being left in precarious situations.

"It happens to be coming to an end at a time when inflation is rising," said Amy Asselbaye, executive director of Honolulu's Office of Economic Revitalization. 

Makanani and her husband, a retired veteran, live in a household with about a dozen family members who pool their money together to pay the bills.

"And then sometimes that even leaves us without," Makanani said. "And it's just a struggle from moment to moment."

She helps distribute goods at her neighborhood food bank in Waimanalo and as the need rises, she worries about the next generation, agonizing over the fact that her grown grandchildren can't even afford a studio.

Some of them are having to live in tents in the backyard and charge food from the manapua man.

"Eat today, pay tomorrow," she said. "I don't think our culture was meant to keep us in poverty like this." 

As the economic hardships take a toll -- putting everything from food and medicines at risk -- Makanani says the next generation of her family is considering moving away from their island home for a better life.

"I mean that hurts, that cuts because this is our 'aina. I never meant for them to come into this world just so that they got to move away." 

Produced in partnership with the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

Recommended for you