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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 18, 2008

Palolo Valley tenants seek bigger role

 •  High hopes and dashed dreams in Kalihi public housing areas

By Mary Vorsino
Advertiser Urban Honolulu Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

The Palolo Valley Homes resident association has proposed taking over management of the housing project from the state.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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The wind picks up. A light, chilly rain starts to fall. And still the circle of people assembled on a tiny lawn at Palolo Valley Homes remains, well past dusk, to vent their frustrations about what their housing project has become and talk about what they're going to do about it.

The group about 15 strong are leaders and friends of the Palolo Valley Homes resident association, one of the most active tenant associations in the state. They are brooding about the state's decision late last year to take over management of the housing project from a private contractor a change, they say, that has worsened crime in Palolo Valley Homes and left them feeling helpless.

But the association isn't just complaining. It has a plan.

In recent talks with the Hawai'i Public Housing Authority, the association has proposed taking over management of the housing project a job that entails everything from overseeing small repairs and yard duty to making sure that rent is paid and tenants are getting along. Though the housing authority has not embraced the idea, officials have also not thrown it out completely, which gives residents some hope.

Resident-based management has never been tried at public housing projects in the Islands, but the association says it's about time it was.

Desiree Kihano, the Palolo association's representative to the HPHA Resident Advisory Board, said residents know better than anyone else what the issues are that need to be addressed and how to address them.

"We're asking to be able to manage ourselves," Kihano said, after the association lawn gathering at Palolo Valley Homes.

If Palolo Valley residents succeed in taking over management at the housing project, it could spur other associations to do the same a move that some Hawai'i advocates believe could strengthen communities and, ultimately, improve life in public housing complexes.


Resident management dates to the 1970s nationally, when public housing tenants angry about maintenance backlogs and rising crime pushed to grab a bigger stake in turning housing developments around.

The 1980s saw great interest in resident-based management from tenants, advocates and housing officials, but the push to move to tenant management dropped off in the 1990s after studies found that tenant management produced mixed results and few additional benefits compared with conventional state- or privately contracted management. The studies also pointed out that resident management required significant upfront costs for training, though it did leave tenants feeling more empowered.

In Hawai'i, private contractors manage 36 of the 83 public housing properties statewide. The state manages the rest.

HPHA executive director Chad Taniguchi said it's unclear why private management contractors were brought in for some housing projects and not others, but he suspects it was a funding issue.

"It's been done for the last 30 years," he said, adding that the decision to change management at Palolo Valley Homes from private to state was also a funding issue and part of a review of private management contracts at projects statewide.


Private management contracts run from $280,000 to upwards of $1 million a year.

But private management is not privatization because HPHA still oversees management companies, continues to make large-scale renovation decisions and handles eviction proceedings, among other things. Some, including several lawmakers, have expressed concerns about private management companies, saying HPHA is not ensuring they are fulfilling their contracts.

Members of the Palolo Valley Homes association, however, said private management worked well at the complex.

Their complaints with state management at Palolo Valley Homes, which took over in November, include:

  • No resident manager, which means problems that happen after business hours must generally wait until the next weekday.

  • Tougher accessibility to management staff because so few employees work in the business office at the complex. The association says the private management company, Urban Management, had more staff members and longer hours.

  • An increase, according to the group, in crime (from shots fired earlier this summer to more drug deals and roving gangs). The association attributes the increase to less management presence on the grounds, especially during nights and weekends.

  • More maintenance concerns, including with the grounds. Though Palolo Valley Homes had a host of backlogged repairs before the state took over management, the association says that less general maintenance is being done to the exterior of units and to the grounds, work orders inside units (to fix sinks or appliances) are taking longer to complete and yard work has fallen behind.

    The association has aired these concerns to the HPHA board, and so far there are no immediate plans to revert to a private management company. Taniguchi has said he would look into the association's concerns.

    Jan Ii, vice president of the Palolo Valley Homes association, said the idea to move to resident-based management was meant as a compromise: It would cost less than a typical management contract and it would allow tenants to get involved in the day-to-day operations at the complex.

    Meanwhile, Taniguchi stressed that a transition to resident-based management if it were to happen at any housing project would require considerable work and training. Still, he added, he's happy to see Palolo residents getting involved.

    Reach Mary Vorsino at mvorsino@honoluluadvertiser.com.