Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Honolulu Advertiser Editorial: Housing office gets it: Rehab is urgent need

The state of Hawai'i's stock of public housing units, both in quantity and quality, is a problem that should be attacked with the urgency often missing in government work.

So when leaders of the Hawai'i Public Housing Authority show determination to speed improvements to two major public housing projects, that shines as a bright spot among efforts to meet low-income housing needs.

Specifically, the authority has decided to press ahead with the requests for proposals to rehabilitate Kuhio Park Terrace and Kuhio Homes, two of Honolulu's largest — and most dilapidated — projects, totaling 748 units.

Ordinarily the authority would have first hired a consultant to make recommendations on the redevelopment plans. Travis Thompson, HPHA chairman, has said a consultant still may be retained for advice on the proposals that come in, and that would be a wise investment.

But he also rightly pointed out that given the pressing need, it's smarter to get the process moving quickly: The state has been sued over the conditions at the projects, and the heavy demand for the units will surely increase through the months of economic distress ahead.

An unsolicited proposal came in from Urban Housing Communities, a California developer, but the agency is casting a wider net in its request for proposals. Urban Housing's fee amounts to about 10 percent of development costs, and — judging by rehabs undertaken recently in other cities — public housing experts say that's high, considering that 25 percent of the units would be at higher rents.

The fee the development company charges up front helps to offset its risk; the state must ensure that the security offered to existing tenants justifies that fee.

Also: The tenants should be brought into the planning process as early as possible. They need assurances about their housing security during a period of economic instability.

Finally, while other public-housing projects have not been targeted by a lawsuit, the state would be wise to use the same streamlined process to bring those up to standard, as well. The Kuhio upgrades, executed with guidance from success stories elsewhere, should serve as a model for bringing Hawai'i's public housing into the 21st century.

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