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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, April 17, 2006

Teachers blast Hana housing

By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor

WAILUKU, Maui Hana High and Elementary School teachers complain they are sharing state-subsidized housing with rodents, termites, cockroaches and mold, and that deteriorating conditions at the cottages have been ignored for years.

Physical education teacher Dan Skousen said he was told he'd be moving into a fully furnished cottage when he accepted a job at the school after graduating last year from Brigham Young University-Hawai'i. Eight months after arriving with his wife and 4-year-old daughter, they still don't have proper beds.

"There was nothing in any room," said Skousen, 28.

Vermin had taken over the house while it had been sitting empty, screens were falling off the windows, and the neglected yard had grown up to the windows, allowing cane spiders and other critters to crawl in, he said. With the help of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association union, the Skousens are hoping to get a mattress from a hotel this weekend.

Cheap rent ranging from $250 for one room to $750 for a three-bedroom cottage is used as an incentive to recruit teachers to the remote East Maui community. But the cottages are controlled by the state Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i, not the state Department of Education.

Housing is provided close to the Hana campus at the "Long House," which has four apartments, each with its own bathroom, and shared living and kitchen areas for couples without children. There also are five cottages, some reserved for families with children and others for singles. Teachers have first priority, but "essential staff" such as counselors also are eligible for housing.

Hana principal Rick Paul, who oversees 365 students and 35 teachers, said the Housing and Community Development Corp. runs the cottages from the standpoint of a public-housing agency and may not necessarily consider educational needs. For example, he said, under the agency's rules, teachers are supposed to move out after three years. Paul said that creates regular teacher turnover at Hana because there are few rentals available in the small community and prices are high.

"There are no other options. It's a great deal, but then, 'Boom, see ya.' They have to go find another place," he said.

Paul said one of the school's vice principals was paying $1,500 in monthly rent for a studio located 30 minutes from campus before finally purchasing a home. Others, like behavioral specialist Kent Canzoneri, just leave.

Canzoneri, 56, who works with special-education students, said poor housing conditions are one reason he's leaving Hawai'i at the end of May. He has been living in the Long House since he started at Hana High and Elementary in July 2004, and said extensive termite damage has simply been painted over, screens and louvers are broken or missing, and flooring needs replacing. Only one of two kitchens in the building is functional, leaving up to eight people sharing one kitchen, he said.

"If anything goes wrong, who do you call? You can't call Honolulu, because those people are out to lunch," Canzoneri said.

Two Department of Education officials from Honolulu flew to Maui on Thursday to inspect the cottages. Teachers who met with them said the officials were shocked by the conditions and told the group that as long as the housing was under the Housing and Community Development Corp. control, there was little to be done.

The Advertiser was unable to contact Department of Education and Housing and Community Development officials familiar with the Hana housing to comment.

All school functions, such as bus transportation and facilities, have been consolidated under the Department of Education, and Paul said the Housing and Community Development Corp. eventually will be relinquishing control of the teacher housing to education officials, who recognize that housing is directly related to teacher retention.

Paul lives in the principal's cottage located on campus. He said the house was "in pretty bad shape" when he moved in almost two years ago and that he has spent at least $1,500 of his own money to fix faulty wiring and broken pipes and make other repairs and improvements.

The teacher housing originally was designed for young teachers just out of college who were used to dormitorylike conditions, Paul said. Now, more teachers in their 40s and 50s, some with families, have been taking jobs at Hana, looking for a midcareer lifestyle change.

Paul said he can understand why teacher housing in tiny Hana may be a low priority for the Housing and Community Development Corp., which manages more than 6,200 public housing units statewide. "They are in Honolulu. We fall under the same folks who are responsible for high-rise public housing. Our problems are minor compared with the kinds of issues they have," he said.

"On the other hand, these folks are professionals and the housing is not at the high level they are used to," he said. "If they had a choice, they would get a nicer place. ... But this is the only game in town."

The situation worsened when the cottage manager responsible for upkeep and yard maintenance quit last summer. Special-education teacher Susan Johnson and her husband, Arnie Suntag, agreed to take on the job for a $225 monthly stipend, but they said they haven't received payment from the Housing and Community Development Corp. for the first two months' work.

Reach Christie Wilson at cwilson@honoluluadvertiser.com.