Monday, November 22, 2010

Elderly await housing fixes

Residents fear a sale of their homes will further delay repairs they have sought for two years

From Honolulu Star-Advertiser, by BJ Reyes

Resident Patsy Drake shows some of the disrepair at her unit at Kahuku Elderly Hauoli Hale. "All we can do is sit around and wait," said Don Powers, secretary of the Kahuku Senior Citizens Community Association.

Senior residents at an affordable-housing complex in Kahuku say they have been waiting two years for repairs required by the city and are now worried that $1.45 million in federal funding set aside for the work is being delayed.

A proposal by the landlord to sell the property has heightened fears among some residents of Kahuku Elderly Hauoli Hale that delays might cause the money to disappear altogether.

"It's just frustrating that the people are not being served," said the Rev. Bob Nakata, former state representative, a community organizer who has been working with the residents of Kahuku Elderly Housing.

The landlord, Kahuku Housing Foundation, said it is in search of a buyer "that will continue its mission to provide elderly affordable housing for the Kahuku community" with as little disruption as possible.

Residents of Kahuku Elderly Housing have clashed before with the Kahuku Housing Foundation, a nonprofit organization that owns the 64-unit complex. It is on land next to Kahuku Golf Course leased from the city at $1 a year under an agreement to comply with U.S. Housing and Urban Development Section 8 requirements to provide affordable housing for a specific population.

A group of residents led by the Kahuku Senior Citizens Community Association successfully sued two years ago to prevent the foundation from opting out of Section 8 in favor of a voucher program to subsidize low- to moderate-income residents.

The attempt to leave the federal subsidy program also triggered inspections by the city Department of Community Services that found 213 deficiencies in HUD Section 8 housing quality standards. The city warned the foundation in October 2008 that failure to fix the problems could lead to the cancellation of its lease.

None of the repairs have been made since then, said Don Powers, secretary of the Kahuku Senior Citizens Community Association.

"All we can do is sit around and wait," he said.

In May the City Council approved $1.45 million in HUD Community Development Block Grant money for the repairs and renovations.

Ernie Martin, acting director of community services, said his department had been working with the foundation to sign an agreement so the federal money could be released, but was informed this week that the owner wished to sell the property and transfer authority of the block grant money to a buyer.

"It is also Kahuku Housing's objective that such a sale cause minimal if not any changes to the current residents of Kahuku Elderly," the foundation said in a news release.

In an e-mail, Kamuela Cobb-Adams, foundation executive director, said legal review of the block grant documents has taken longer than expected and is expected to be completed next month.

He declined to discuss the concerns raised by the community association.

Powers said it was the community association's understanding that the block grant money was needed because the foundation could not afford to pay for all of the repairs, and that the Council favored the allocation because it was a "shovel-ready" project.

"Why is the foundation turning its back on these funds and the quality of life and safety of our seniors?" he said.

Martin said the block grant money was allocated for the fiscal year that ends June 30, so the city has until then to encumber the funds.

He said the city was trying to set up a meeting with the foundation to further discuss the proposed sale.

"It's not an unusual request," he said, adding that typically a nonprofit would look to sell to another nonprofit to manage the property under the terms of the existing lease.

If the city does not consent to the sale, Martin said he would expect the foundation to follow through with the needed renovations. The city also could request the sale be delayed until repairs are made.

"Then at that point, if they're still interested in proceeding with trying to sell the property, then we can go through that process," Martin said. "We want to ensure the renovations are initiated. ... We know the residents are really waiting for those renovations to be made, and we want those renovations made."

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