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Government needs to pay up to fix hot-water system now

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It makes me steam to read that the tap water at Mayor Wright public housing won’t.

Residents protested at the state Capitol to draw attention to their concern that 70 percent of the 364 units are without hot water, with no relief in sight for most. They waved signs that said, "Hot Water for Our Babies Please!" and "We Are Human Beings."

The Hawaii Public Housing Authority says it has only $250,000 for a Rube Goldberg fix for some of the units and would need another $600,000 from the Legislature to repair all of the 35 buildings.

Since when is hot water optional? It’s disgraceful for the state to play slumlord and leave its tenants living without basic sanitation.

How long would a private landlord be allowed to deny tenants hot water before the government got in his business? How long would it take to fix a hot-water problem in the governor’s mansion or the Capitol washrooms used by legislators?

This is basic maintenance that should be taken care of as a matter of course without causing tenants endless anxiety. Like sewage spills and water main breaks, lack of hot water is a public health and safety emergency that needs to be treated with urgency instead of letting it slide for months until the bureaucrats can ask the Legislature for help.

It’s a dodge to say we don’t have the money. Budget crunch or not, we’re still among the highest-taxed states in the country, and the state is still spending $10 billion a year.

The problem isn’t a lack of money. The problem is a lack of conscience among elected officials who think infrastructure maintenance is discretionary — especially for the poor — and public money is better spent currying political favor from the influential.

Hot water at Mayor Wright housing is hardly a big-ticket item. The $850,000 to bypass the aging solar heating system with a gas workaround — or even the $7 million it would cost to totally overhaul the failing plumbing system that causes flooding in the units as well as a lack of hot water — is a drop in that $10 billion bucket. Don’t tell me an on-the-ball administration couldn’t find emergency money somewhere.

With competent state management, it wouldn’t have come to this. The 50-year-old solar heating system would have been properly maintained all along, and problems would have been dealt with as they came up instead of letting the system deteriorate to the point that it’s obsolete and spare parts are no longer available.

This is inexcusable negligence that breeds contempt and cynicism about local government; if the state can’t handle the easy ones, how can we ever hope for progress on the big problems that face us?

David Shapiro can be reached at or


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