POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 10, 2011
The state's public housing authority remains in hot water over the dismal record of maintenance at its federally subsidized residential complexes. The tenants at Mayor Wright Housing would be delighted to exchange their cold water for some of that.
Put simply, the state administration and its partners in the Legislature have a duty to step up their lagging service to the state's poorest residents. It should not take a lawsuit to compel that action.
The appallingly deteriorated housing project encompassing 364 apartments in 35 buildings has been in the news for months because of its dysfunctional water heating system. Since 2002, broken-down solar panels and backup systems have drawn complaints from residents -- who in 2006 finally alerted a new candidate for the state House to the problem.
That candidate, Karl Rhoads, ultimately was elected to the House seat. Last summer, he said, he realized the magnitude of the failure. His survey of the residents in July showed about 70 percent of them without reliable hot-water service.
But the attention has not yet spurred government to give the crisis the action it deserves. This week, The Associated Press reported that five of the buildings were fitted recently with tankless water heaters. About half of roughly $200,000 culled from existing Hawaii Public Housing Authority funds has been used on these and other repairs, said Denise Wise, executive director of the HPHA, which oversees the subsidized projects.
According to an AP analysis of Census data, only about one in 600 renter-occupied units nationally lack piped hot water; viewed through this lens, the conditions at Mayor Wright seem negligent. That leaves the state vulnerable to lawsuits, which Lawyers for Equal Justice has threatened to file. This is the nonprofit public-interest law firm that already has sued over the disrepair at another state complex, Kuhio Park Terrace and Kuhio Homes, so it's a pretty credible threat.
HPHA is pressing for more funds to whittle away this bit of a $350-million maintenance backlog, Wise said.
About $3.1 million to make the system functional for the short term is in House Bill 1616; that's about half of what it will take to make the fixes more lasting, but it's the least the state should do now.
Multiple federal laws on the books set a low bar for public housing: that it be "decent, safe, and sanitary." Considering the effect on residents trying to clean their dishes or bathe their children, supplying only cold water seems to fall far short of even that modest standard.
Rhoads said no state administration has added its weight to the appeal for funds by making an emergency request. Clearly it's time for the Abercrombie administration to break with that tradition and do so.
"It's a prime example showing that people who don't vote and don't have much political influence, things don't get taken care of for them.
"To me, it's an emergency and it needs to be treated as one," Rhoads added. "What can you say?"
You can say that this is shameful.