Public housing tenants need help from eviction
A woman and her daughter facing eviction from public housing are receiving help from a private company.
A GOOD Samaritan has come to the rescue
of a frail woman and her 12-year-old daughter who faced eviction from public housing because they were behind in rent, but many more like them are losing their homes. The crackdown is a result of huge backlog in demand for public housing. A better system is needed to prevent what appear to be draconian measures.
Nearly incapacitated by lupus, Josephine Wong and her daughter were forced from their Kuhio Park Terrace apartment on Monday because they had fallen $5,000 -- nearly 16 months -- behind in their rent of $315 a month. Wong said her monthly welfare subsidies of $575 barely cover her medication.
Network Media, a local publisher and tourist television broadcaster, came to Wong's assistance after learning of her plight in an account by the Star-Bulletin's Mary Vorsino. The company secured temporary accommodations for Wong and her daughter, agreeing to pay their rent for a year and help her find a job.
Vorsino put a human face on a housing crunch with devastating effects on public housing tenants with limited income and poor health, language difficulties and other factors rendering them unable to challenge their evictions. "They have to abide by the lease, and they have to pay rent," says Stephanie Aveiro, executive director of the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii, which manages the state's 5,363 public housing units.
The dislodgments are expedited by a 2002 state law revising the process of appealing evictions. Delinquent tenants are allowed to remain in their units while their cases are on appeal through HCDC and state Circuit Court, a process that has been reduced from an average of 18 months to a year, according to the agency.
Sisan Suda of Island Tenants on the Rise, an advocacy group, suggests that a tenant's failure to pay rent "for so many months and years" should transfer the responsibility to the agency, but that would only reward delinquency. The group is proposing that tenants be allowed to get a second opinion of the eviction board's decision, lengthening the appeals process.
Delinquent tenants would be better served by providing those faced with eviction more resources and referrals aimed at averting eventual eviction at an early point. Aveiro says the agency is trying to do that, but case managers are overwhelmed with other matters and the department's funding is limited.
"We are doing an absolutely pathetic job of taking care of our brothers and sisters," says Peter Gellatly, Network Media's president. The neglect is made more grievous by the state's current financial capability to provide that care.
Governor Lingle and the Legislature have made housing a priority in the current session, along with the state's large budget surplus. They should find a way to increase funding to meet the need to help public housing tenants find ways to keep a roof over their heads.