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Tenants group uneasy with sale of housing

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A tenant association at a Chinatown affordable-housing complex is calling for more openness from the city as it moves forward with the sale of all 12 of its affordable-housing properties to a California-based private group.

The group plans to discuss its concerns with the city administration, city and state lawmakers and the prospective buyer at a public meeting Wednesday at the property, Chinatown Gateway Plaza.

It is the latest in a series of meetings with residents of all 12 affordable-housing units as the buyer, Hono­lulu Affordable Housing Partners LLC, a partnership led by Highland Property Development LLC of Arcadia, Calif., prepares to take over day-to-day management of the city’s portfolio. Former Mayor Peter Carlisle signed the deal in October for $142 million, carrying out the goal of several mayoral administrations to get the city out of the affordable-rental management business.

The Chinatown Gateway Plaza Tenant Association, in a letter to lawmakers who represent the district, contends the city has rushed through the deal and caused "incredible anxiety" among residents, leading to mistrust of the administration and Faith Action for Community Equity, or FACE, a group that has promised to ensure residents’ concerns are heard.

Steve Lohse, chairman of the tenant group, who wrote the letter, said the association wants to deal directly with the new ownership group, something it has not yet had the opportunity to do.

He said he wants state lawmakers to observe the process. Lohse said FACE appears to be too closely aligned with the city and the administration of Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who hired former FACE Oahu organizer Jun Yang as the city housing director.

"From this day forward we need to start developing a working relationship with these new owners," Lohse said. "We want to hear from the new owners. … We really don’t want to hear any more from the city administration."

The Rev. Bob Nakata, a member of FACE’s housing committee, says the concerns are understandable and that the meeting is being held as part of the process to listen to them. He said there likely will be another round of community meetings before the end of the year, when the sale is anticipated to be completed.

"THIS is what FACE said it would try to ensure: that there would be input from the residents," Nakata said. "I know there are some who are maybe not happy about the process, but it’s a process that’s ongoing."

Among the tenant association’s primary concern is the potential loss of units for gap group or workforce families, who earn between 80 percent and 120 percent of median income. A losing bidder for the sale has warned that the deal would result in the loss of 700 such units, but both the company and city officials say there is language requiring all affordable units to stay within federally established affordable rates based on household income, which allows rents of up to 30 percent of a renter’s income.

Lohse said the association hopes to hear from the buyers directly regarding those concerns, with no "interference" from the city or FACE.

"In several of these buildings, most of the residents are in fact gap income workforce," he said. "This has created incredible anxiety. … We’re displacing our workforce residents even as we’re planning to house lower-income residents."

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