Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Two Articles on Proposed Settlement of Westlake Case

Honolulu Advertiser, February 23, 2010

City raises tenant utility allowances
Westlake residents sued, saying officials overcharged them

Honolulu officials have increased utility allowances for a group of low-income residents at a federally subsidized Salt Lake housing complex following a class-action lawsuit, lawyers for the tenants said yesterday.

Tenants at the 95-unit Westlake Apartments complex alleged that they were overcharged hundreds of thousands of dollars because the city repeatedly failed to readjust their federally mandated utility allowances.

After tenants filed their lawsuit in 2008, city officials increased utility allowances from $40 per month to $85 per month, "effectively conceding the prospective injunctive relief plaintiffs were seeking," lawyers representing the tenants said in a statement. "A final resolution has been reached for back award, providing approximately $500 to each tenant who lived at the complex over the relevant period."

City officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

"The increase of $45 in October of 2008 made a big difference for our clients," said Victor Geminiani, executive director of Lawyers for Equal Justice. "When you are on a fixed income of $400 a month, it's surprising how far $45 (goes) toward buying groceries to feed the family, gas to get to work and new clothing for your children.

"The city acted responsibly in quickly acknowledging the problem, raising the utility allowance and compensating the tenants for past harm," said William Durham of Lawyers for Equal Justice. "We are pleased with the outcome and that Westlake is now functioning as federal law intends."

The lawsuit accused city officials of failing for more than a decade to adjust federally required "utility allowances" while deceptively certifying to the federal government each year that the utility allowances had been properly calculated.

A notice of settlement of the lawsuit has been issued by the court, and a final fairness hearing must be held before the case is officially completed, the lawyers for the tenants said.

KITV, Feb. 22, 2010

City Must Pay Tenants For Utility Overcharges
Public Housing Clients Get Lower Bills, Up To $500 After Lawsuit

Residents of a city housing project will be getting money back from the City and County of Honolulu because they were overcharged for utilities.

Attorneys for tenants of the Westlake Apartments in Salt Lake said Monday the city agreed to a class-action settlement of a lawsuit filed two years ago.

They said the city violated federal housing law by raising utility rates on the low-income city housing units. The federal law limited how much of the rate increase could be passed on to housing residents.

Attorneys Victor Geminiani and William Durham of Lawyers for Equal Justice said that after filing their suit, the city immediately reduced the tenants' utility bills. They say as part of the settlement, the city has also agreed to pay up to $500 to each resident who lived in the complex from 2003 to 2009. The exact payment for each tenant will depend on how many months and which years they lived there.

It's not clear yet how many current and former residents are eligible.

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