Saturday, March 24, 2007

Looking a gift horse in the mouth (paca)

I'm about to do what the title says you shouldn't.

I just ran across this article, which particularly caught my attention because it's a Hawaii story. A Japanese real estate developer who is worth over a billion dollars has just given away 8 multi-million dollar homes that he owns in one of the ritziest areas of Oahu (the Kahala area, which is also where the San Marino consulate is) to homeless families, all single mothers with children. The way that the families became homeless is an all too common Hawaii story lately. No drugs, alcohol, or mental illness. Instead, the rent on one family's apartment went to $1200 a month and they couldn't afford it anymore with her job as a customer service rep (and paying day care for 5 children?!). After living with friends or family as long as they could, they all ended up in a shelter.

Genshiro Kawamoto, the billionaire, apparently announced that he would give away homes for 10 years each to a family - rent free except utilities (which will cost in the hundreds of dollars potentially, but shhhh) - and interested families wrote in. I applaud Mr. Kawamoto for giving away homes. 8 homes, perhaps worth $5 million dollars each. As he says in the article, this is pocket change to him, but still, $40,000,000 is a wonderful gift to people who need help.

Still, if he wanted to help the homeless in Hawaii, there are less romantic gestures he could have made with the same $40 million. With a little math, it seems that he could have sold the homes and paid the $1200 rent for 10 years for a full 277 families, instead of 8. That would make a significant dent in homelessness on Oahu. He could also have built a couple apartment blocks with subsidized rent for a substantial number of families as well. One benefit to the current policy, however, is what some of the neighbors in the ritzy Kahala area are protesting against, which is that it would put people of different economic backgrounds together where the Kahala people can think less of homeless people as a problem to be handled and more as something that happened to that nice mother down the street. I've always thought that city housing should be spread out through a city instead of isolated to certain neighborhoods where all the problems fester.

However, even though one might be able to think of better ways to use the money - 277 families instead of 8 - Mr. Kawamoto has indeed helped 8 of them, which is 8 more than me.

No comments: