$25M sought to repair Hawaii public housing
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Lynda Arakawa
The beleaguered Hawai'i Public Housing Authority will seek $25 million in the coming legislative session to help address a huge backlog of repairs at public housing statewide.
If approved, it would be the second consecutive year that the agency has received $25 million for repairs and maintenance.
Most of the state's 62,00 public housing units are sturdy and will last for at least the next 50 years, but without a regular infusion of money they will fall into disrepair, resulting in a "crisis situation," authority executive director Chad Taniguchi told legislators yesterday.
Gov. Linda Lingle recently released the $25 million that was approved in the 2007 legislative session.
Taniguchi said the gap between what's needed to maintain the housing for the long term and what the authority gets in federal and state funding runs tens of millions of dollars a year.
He said a 2002 report for the state estimated the backlog for repairs at $600 million.
He said the authority will ask lawmakers for $25 million in the coming session for repairs and improvements. He also said the authority plans to ask for an emergency appropriation of $9.2 million for the current fiscal year to cover a budget shortfall.
The $25 million request would include about $6 million for security cameras and other security improvements.
The authority also needs $3.5 million for recurring annual maintenance such as elevator upkeep, refuse collection and tree trimming — up from the $1.5 million that the agency is budgeted this year, he said.
The authority has been criticized for:
Taniguchi's appearance before the Senate Committee on Human Services and Public Housing and the House Committee on Human Services and Housing was to update lawmakers on the agency's progress.
He said the $25 million released recently will go a long way.
"The money to hire contractors is a big, big help because it does work that our staff could not do because of the size (and) ... complexity of it," he said after the meeting.
He said 412 vacant units are scheduled for repair and renovation by contractors. The authority will also spend $8.3 million modernizing or rebuilding all 35 elevators in its buildings, he said.
Most elevator work will begin by April.
About 7,000 applicants are on the public housing waiting list, down from the 13,000 reported in April last year. But Taniguchi attributed the drop primarily to people who said they no longer needed housing or didn't respond to letters the authority sent.
Suzanne Chun Oakland, chairwoman of the Senate Human Services and Public Housing Committee, said Taniguchi has been responsive to concerns raised by the Legislature and the community, and that the authority has been making progress.
"Just knowing what it used to be, I think here has been significant changes in a short time period, and that he certainly has a huge challenge in terms of the backlog of repair and maintenance," she said.
She said the Legislature needs to be an "active partner" in providing money to reduce the backlog and closely monitoring the agency's efforts to improve.
Taniguchi said 297 of the authority's 371 state positions are filled, and that the authority will not fill all positions because it lacks the money.
But he also said national consultants have said that "based on the staff that we have, if they're managed right and they're working right, then we should be collecting all the rent and that we should be fixing all the units. So I think we can make a lot more improvements to manage it, supervise the staff, so that we can reach that kind of organization where we are working efficiently."
The $25 million that Lingle released includes $5 million for elevator improvements at Kuhio Park Terrace, Paoakalani, Kalakaua Homes and Kalanihuia Homes on O'ahu. Short-term repairs have been completed, including four elevators at Kuhio Park Terrace.
The remaining $20 million will go toward public housing improvements statewide, including reroofing, interior repairs, renovating vacant units, sewer repairs, siding and electrical work, kitchen and bath repairs, solar water heating upgrades and emergency call system repairs.
Reach Lynda Arakawa at firstname.lastname@example.org.