The opinion below by Rep. Rida Cabanilla appeared in this morning's Honolulu Star-Advertiser:
I agree that public housing projects, such as Mayor Wright Homes, have lapsed into disrepair. The current situation must not and cannot be permitted to continue ("State owes Mayor Wright tenants," Our View, Star-Advertiser, April 25). However, the state Legislature is not to blame. For the past six years under the Lingle administration, there was no oversight and accountability of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA), which is responsible for the maintenance of public housing.
HPHA has consistently operated in violation of HRS 356D-43, which mandates that HPHA establish a rate of rent that will generate sufficient revenue to "pay all expenses of management, operation, and maintenance … to the end that the state low-income housing projects shall be and always remain self-supporting." It is because of severe mismanagement and non-conformity to the law that public housing projects are in the poor condition they are in now.
When HPHA was created in 2005, it was given powers to create rules necessary for the management and maintenance of its properties. While HPHA has made rules for these purposes, clearly these rules are not adequate. Its rules concerning the eviction process are so convoluted that it is nearly impossible to evict persons from public housing even when it is reasonably warranted. Furthermore, HPHA charges such a minuscule amount for rent that the state Legislature has been forced every year to appropriate millions of dollars to bail out and subsidize HPHA at the expense of taxpayers.
For fiscal year 2011, rental rates are projected to cover only 43 percent of operating expenses when state law mandates that it cover 100 percent of expenses — and this is not even including other financial obligations as noted in HRS 356D-43. At least 54 percent of tenants pay less than $300 per month for rent with utilities included. Further compounding this, some tenants refuse to pay their rent, resulting in $1.44 million owed in back rent and interest charges as of December.
The House Housing Committee has passed many bills that have tried to remedy this situation. However, HPHA has staunchly opposed every single one, blocking every single attempt to find a resolution. In the 2010 session, House Bill 2319 would have set a five-year residency limit in state-owned public housing in order to prevent individuals from being permanently dependent on what is intended to be temporary help.
Among bills this session, HB 231 would have established a two-year pilot program providing security for Mayor Wright Homes; HB 754 would have set a minimum $300 rent to help provide sufficient revenues to cover operations and maintenance of public housing; and HB 755 and HB 1573 would have simplified the eviction process. All these would have helped significantly, and I find it incredibly unconscionable, especially considering the dire situation that public housing projects are in, for HPHA to claim that this "determination of policy … is soundly within the board's purview" and that the Legislature should not intervene.
The House Housing Committee has tried for years to help HPHA and provide avenues to help rectify issues. Policies set forth by HPHA need to improve and HPHA must conform to state law. Furthermore, systemic issues are significantly exacerbating the gross ineffectiveness of HPHA and it must be addressed by the governor and HPHA's board. It is long overdue for HPHA to get its act together and long overdue for its board and the governor to ensure that it does so.