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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, February 10, 2006

To benefit, you follow the rules

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Columnist

There has been much hand-wringing and finger-pointing over recent evictions from state-run public housing. Two cases have been presented in the media as examples of the heartless way state bureaucracy treats Hawai'i's poor. These were not the only two families to be evicted this month, but they were the most pitiful. Others may not make for such compelling stories.

Look, nobody wants to see women and children turned out to the streets.

But it's not that simple.

In the cases profiled in the local media, one about a woman with a chronic debilitating illness and a young child, the other about a working woman with minor children of her own plus two small grandchildren, the bottom line seems to have gotten lost.

They didn't pay their rent.

There are provisions in within the regulations of government housing that allow for low-paying jobs or illness that renders the head of household unable to work. The evictions didn't happen overnight. There were warnings and notices.

The chief argument against the state's Housing and Community Development Corporation of Hawaii is that these tenants were not allowed to stay in their units until their appeal was held.

But an appeal is something that happens after an adjudication, and an eviction is something that happens after warnings and chances and continued violations. Too often, the appeal process is used as an extra rent-free grace period that stretches for months.

There seems to be a bit of amnesia about the mess Stephanie Aveiro was tasked to clean up when her friend Gov. Linda Lingle gave her the job heading up HCDCH. The Feds had labeled Hawai'i's housing agency "troubled" and were demanding changes across the board. Some tenants were going months, sometimes years, in violation of their lease with no consequences while other families languished on the waiting list for housing. This rule change was supposed to make things more fair. Changing it back will only make for more opportunities for abuse of public resources meant to help those who cannot help themselves.

Which brings up a tricky point: Who is truly helpless?

Very few. For the vast majority of us, there is a price to be paid for living in society and reaping the benefits of government programs. It may be a sliding scale, there may be vouchers for some, but there is no free ride.

Politicians and the television ratings periods have colored these people's stories to suit their own purposes.

But some of the blame rests on the people themselves. The system may have failed them but they failed to work within the system. If there are no consequences to breaking the rules, then the rules don't matter.

Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or lcataluna@honoluluadvertiser.com.