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Hawaii News

Housing residents demand hot water fix

Rosemarie Bernardo
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Residents of Mayor Wright Homes turned out at the state Capitol yesterday to call for overdue maintenance at their public housing complex, where residents have contended with poor hot water service for years.

Nearly 40 residents of Mayor Wright Homes and supporters joined in a door-to-door protest at the state Capitol yesterday, telling legislators how they have endured hot water service that has been sporadic at best for seven years.

Kazner Alexander made his first visit to the Capitol to explain his and others’ plights. "We pay rent. We pay electricity but yet, no hot water.

"It’s very, very frustrating," said Alexander, who has lived at the public housing complex for three years with his wife and two children, ages 11 and 12.

Their signs read: "Hot water for our babies please."

Donalyn Dela Cruz, spokeswoman for Gov. Neil Abercrombie, said the governor has made the hot water problem at the 35-building complex a priority.

A request of $3.1 million for fiscal biennium 2011-2013 and $2.5 million for fiscal biennium 2013-2015 is in Abercrombie’s budget for an overhaul of the entire water-heating system. About $600,000 of the $5.6 million is requested for the design, with the remaining to go toward equipment, construction and installation costs.

"The governor wants the work completed as soon as possible," Dela Cruz said.

Nicholas Birck, housing planner of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, said: "We’ll have to see what the Legislature decides in terms of what they’ll provide."

The housing authority plans to install a gas-fired, tankless water-heating system as a short-term solution. The tankless system will then be incorporated as backup for a new system if money is appropriated by the Legislature.

The current electric backup system at the complex is old and has failed over the years. Birck said officials received approval to go through an expedited procurement for a $798,000 bid to install 57 back-up systems. Prospective bidders conducted a site visit at the complex yesterday.

A contractor is expected to be selected by March 11. If all goes well, installation will be completed by July 5.

So far, 14 systems have been installed with reallocated capital funds from lower-priority projects. Some buildings are equipped with two or three systems, depending on the number of units in each building. Each system cost $14,000 and supports six units.

Fetu Kolio, president of the Mayor Wright Housing Tenants Association, remains skeptical. "On a tenant’s perspective, I gotta see it to believe it," Kolio said.

"It’s been difficult for us as far as the budget," said Birck, noting the state has a $350 million repair backlog for public housing. "We’re trying to find funding as we go."

Also, the procurement process is a lengthy process that can be frustrating.

The problem has been overlooked for years, said Kolio, a four-year resident of Mayor Wright who lives with his wife in a two-bedroom apartment.

Residents, Kolio said, are fed up that the long-standing problem has yet to be corrected. Some have adapted to cold water for showers, cleaning dishes and doing the laundry. Hot water is a necessity, Kolio said.

Showering in cold water has caused prolonged illnesses for many residents. The water problem at Mayor Wright has generated support from many, including Rebecca Steffey who participated in the protest. "I think it’s ridiculous," Steffey said.

A July 2010 survey taken by Rep. Karl Rhoads (D, Chinatown-Downtown) showed about 70 percent of the residents lacked hot water.


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