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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, February 23, 2010

City raises tenant utility allowances

Advertiser Staff

Honolulu officials have increased utility allowances for a group of low-income residents at a federally subsidized Salt Lake housing complex following a class-action lawsuit, lawyers for the tenants said yesterday.

Tenants at the 95-unit Westlake Apartments complex alleged that they were overcharged hundreds of thousands of dollars because the city repeatedly failed to readjust their federally mandated utility allowances.

After tenants filed their lawsuit in 2008, city officials increased utility allowances from $40 per month to $85 per month, "effectively conceding the prospective injunctive relief plaintiffs were seeking," lawyers representing the tenants said in a statement. "A final resolution has been reached for back award, providing approximately $500 to each tenant who lived at the complex over the relevant period."

City officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

"The increase of $45 in October of 2008 made a big difference for our clients," said Victor Geminiani, executive director of Lawyers for Equal Justice. "When you are on a fixed income of $400 a month, it's surprising how far $45 (goes) toward buying groceries to feed the family, gas to get to work and new clothing for your children.

"The city acted responsibly in quickly acknowledging the problem, raising the utility allowance and compensating the tenants for past harm," said William Durham of Lawyers for Equal Justice. "We are pleased with the outcome and that Westlake is now functioning as federal law intends."

The lawsuit accused city officials of failing for more than a decade to adjust federally required "utility allowances" while deceptively certifying to the federal government each year that the utility allowances had been properly calculated.

A notice of settlement of the lawsuit has been issued by the court, and a final fairness hearing must be held before the case is officially completed, the lawyers for the tenants said.