Monday, November 9, 2009

Honolulu Advertiser: Landlord retaliating, say elderly tenants

Foundation won't say why restrictions were imposed after lawsuits

KAHUKU — Seniors at the Kahuku Elderly Housing project say they face retaliatory actions by their landlord, Kahuku Housing Foundation Inc., for trying to protect their housing rights.

Use of their community center was restricted more than a year ago, and now the Book Mobile has been denied access to the housing project because of two lawsuits against the foundation that preserved senior's federal subsidies for rent and utilities, they say.

Kahuku Elderly Housing project is on 6 acres of city land about a half mile off Kamehameha Highway and next to the Kahuku Golf Course. The duplexes, with 64 units, sit amid manicured green lawns, plumeria trees, trimmed hedges and clean, paved streets.


Tim Shea, president of a residents group.

The housing was developed in 1978 as a project-based Section 8 New Construction program, making it eligible for federal subsidies. Hawaiian Properties manages the project. The foundation directors include Joe and Tom Pickard.

Joe Pickard declined to comment for this story and referred questions to his attorney. His attorney did not return calls.

The foundation restricted the use of the community center after settling a lawsuit in April 2008 that preserved the project's Section 8 status, said Tim Shea, president of Kahuku Senior Citizens Association, one of the associations representing residents there.

sad thanksgiving

The restriction caused mental stress for some of the tenants who use the center with its 64-inch TV, piano, library and games for activities and get togethers, Shea said. For 30 years, residents could use it whenever they wanted, Shea said. Now the center is closed on weekends, holidays and evenings.

Because of the new restriction, Kahuku United Methodist Church was denied access to the center to bring Thanksgiving dinner to the seniors, Shea said.

"A lot of people got depressed because there was no place for them to go, no place to socialize" he said.

Recently they learned that the state Library Book Mobile would not be welcomed on the property, Shea said, adding that the manager claimed it was the foundation's decision because of a recent lawsuit brought against the foundation.

The lawsuit alleges that the foundation did not properly report utility rate changes, which led to overcharges.

Shea said the lawsuit and the Book Mobile have nothing to do with each other, yet the manager claims that the lawsuit is the reason for stopping the Book Mobile from coming to the housing project.

The manager could not be reached for comment.

Banning the Book Mobile hurt residents who were looking foward to its visit, Shea said.

"It caused a lot of stress for me because I'm the main plaintiff for the lawsuit," said Shea, 69. "All these ladies that lost the opportunity to have the Book Mobile are saying it's my fault."

Shea's attorney calls the action retaliatory and in an Oct. 19 letter asked the foundation's attorney to investigate and confirm that the Book Mobile will be allowed to visit the housing as approved last November.

"I understand they're still considering whether this action by the owner is in retaliation and therefore illegal under the law," said Victor Geminiani, an attorney with Lawyers for Equal Justice, which is representing Shea in the lawsuit. "To me it's open, shut."

Shea and other residents called the manager about the Book Mobile, and they were told it was held up because of the lawsuit, Geminiani said.

Some of the residents had hoped the city would intervene because it owns the land and has leased it to the foundation for $1 a year.

seeking funding

Debbie Kim Morikawa, director of the city Department of Community Services, said the city is not involved with how the landlord operates the project but is aware of the problems with the community center and Book Mobile.

The city has oversight on health and safety issues there and has asked that they be addressed, Morikawa said. Residents had complained about deteriorating units with holes in the exterior walls, crumbling siding and corroding window sills, Morikawa said.

Last year, the city inspected the project when the foundation announced its intent to drop out of the Section 8 program and apply to the city voucher program that subsidizes low- to moderate-income residents. The units would not have passed inspection for the city program, Morikawa said.

City officials visited again recently and are trying to assist the foundation, Morika-wa said.

"We have been in communication with the property manager and the owner, and they are well aware of the situation and doing everything possible to identify other funding sources to do the type of massive renovations that would be required," she said.

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