Class action lawsuits filed against the state last week seeking desperately needed repairs at Mayor Wright Housing should, rightly and finally, nudge state legislators to make the fixes over the next two years. The state should make repairs as a matter of routine maintenance to prevent what for years has been deplorable deterioration of low-income public housing projects throughout the state.
The repairs by the state are necessary not just as a matter of being a responsible landlord, but also by federal standards for state-run public housing facilities.
Similar lawsuits filed in 2008 were successful in forcing the state to make repairs at Kuhio Park Terrace and Kuhio Homes in Kalihi.
At Kapalama’s Mayor Wright Homes, solar panels installed two decades ago, distributed to 80 tanks to provide hot water to the project’s 364 apartments in 35 buildings, have failed to work in recent years.
Most residents have not been receiving hot water, according to the lawsuits filed in state and federal courts, while only one in 600 low-income-renter, occupied units nationally lack piped hot water.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has rightly made the hot water issue at Mayor Wright a priority. His proposal to devote $5.6 million to remove the solar water panels and replace the deteriorated roofs where they have been sitting and install a new hot water system is included in a two-year general appropriations bill scheduled for a joint House-Senate conference today.
The conferees are urged to include the expenditure in the bill.
That would be "a good solid first step," says Victor Geminiani, executive director of Lawyers for Equal Justice, which represents the residents in the lawsuits.
But lack of hot water is not the only problem.
Dumpsters at Mayor Wright frequently overflow, leading many residents to place bags of trash next to them, and the bags are torn open by dogs or feral cats.
That has led to rat, roach and vermin infestations, according to the lawsuits.
Various other problems plague tenants inside their units, especially those with disabilities.
During and after repairs are made at Mayor Wright, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority will need to make repairs and improve maintenance elsewhere amid the 8,000 units it manages across the islands.
Legislators should make answering those needs a priority every session.
Fully addressing those problems will take time and money. HPHA has acknowledged that hundreds of millions of dollars will be needed to complete the backlog for needed renovations systemwide.
As the state government copes with a struggling economy, that will not be a quick fix — but today is the unfortunate result and reality of years of neglect and inadequate maintenance.
The state must address the problems with a degree of urgency, one steady fix at a time.