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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 7, 2006

Families evicted before appeals process ends

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer

The families of Josephine Wong, 51, left, and Corona Teo, 48, were evicted from their apartments yesterday at Kuhio Park Terrace. Neither was sure yesterday where they'd stay tonight.

JEFF WIDENER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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When the families of Corona Teo and Josephine Wong were locked out of their units at Kuhio Park Terrace yesterday morning, public housing advocates blamed a policy change that speeds up the eviction timetable and leaves residents on the street before working through the appeals process.

Both families, who are months behind on their rent for a variety of reasons, stayed with friends last night but arrangements for tonight were still up in the air.

Lusia Wieckowicz, secretary for the nonprofit Island Tenants on the Rise, said Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i used to wait until a Circuit Court judge decided whether to remove a family before it physically did so. But that changed recently, Wieckowicz said, noting that the move comes on the heels of another policy alteration that last year eliminated an additional layer of appeal where tenants could turn to resolve their differences with management.

An official with the state Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawai'i said the policy changes are part of the agency's effort to be fair to tenants who do follow rules and pay their rent on time as well as to the 18,000 people statewide on the waiting list for public housing.

"I didn't even get my court date yet," Teo said yesterday afternoon.

Pam Dotson, executive assistant to the agency's executive director, Stephanie Aveiro, said both families were given several opportunities to become current on their delinquent payments. "We do everything we can to keep (tenants) in housing," she said. "We don't take evictions lightly."

After a story about Teo's housing troubles aired on TV last year, a local couple has been assisting the family and has found a friend willing to rent Teo's family a home. However, the home will not be available for at least three months, Teo said.

Teo, who works in the shipping and receiving section of the Naval Exchange Distribution Center, said she found the letter warning her of her impending eviction slipped under her apartment door when she came home from work Jan. 30.

"My income is not enough," she said, noting that her 20-year-old daughter stays home to take care of her sisters, ages 10 and 8, and her own children, ages 3 and 1.

Wong and her 12-year-old daughter do not have a long-term plan.

Wong, 51, suffers from lupus. "I'm so sick, once I lay down, I cannot stand up," she said. "Once I sit down, I cannot stand up, I cannot move."

Wong, a Filipino immigrant, said she has been given two previous warnings but only recently got out of the hospital.

"I don't know where to go," she said, tears welling up in her eyes.

Under the current policy, Dotson said, the state Housing and Community Development Corp. no longer waits to evict until an appeal had been decided in Circuit Court because the average wait before the matter would go before a judge was four months. And typically during that time, she said, a family would continue to violate its rental agreements.

"We didn't think it was fair to those abiding by their rental agreements," Dotson said.

Island Tenants on the Rise wants the Legislature to approve Senate Bill 3025, which would allow tenants to stay in their units until appeals filed in Circuit Court were decided. It would also re-establish an administrative appeals process that was eliminated last year.

The bill would actually shorten the eviction process, the group said, by, among other things, reducing the trigger time for issuing a first delinquency notice from within 45 days to within five days.

Reach Gordon Y.K. Pang at gpang@honoluluadvertiser.com.