Honokowai Kauhale
Honokowai Kauhale

BY JIM DOOLEY – Although state housing official Karen Seddon promised two weeks ago to decrease rents at a troubled Maui housing project, her agency now has ordered rent increases.

Some 85 tenants who moved into Honokowai Kauhale before November 2008 were informed by certified letters late last week of modest rent increases ranging from $10 to $35 per month, depending on the size of their units.

Several long-term residents who received the letters expressed astonishment and frustration at the news of higher rents.

“I can’t believe that they still have the nerve to send us this,” said one, who asked not to be identified by name. “This place is in no way worth the increase.”

The new rates are effective November 1 and include corresponding increases in security deposits which must be paid by the tenants, property manager Lisa Faleafine said in the letters.

Seddon’s agency, the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., owns Honokowai Kauhale and “authorized the following rent increases,” the letter said.

Seddon and HHFDC spokesman Kent Miyasaki have not responded to repeated inquiries about rental rates at the 184-unit affordable housing project in West Maui.

Seddon said two weeks ago that she was withholding comment on Honokowai Kauhale until completion of a “compliance audit” of conditions at the complex.

She said she anticipated completion of the audit by the end of last week. Miyasaki said last Friday that the audit was not complete. He did not respond when asked if Seddon had taken any actions regarding Honokowai Kauhale vacancies or rents.

The rent increase letters written by Faleafine were dated Sept. 13 and residents said they received them at the end of last week.

Seddon ordered the audit following Hawaii Reporter news stories that 40 per cent of the apartments at Honokowai Kauhale have been vacant for months and years.

State Sen. Roz Baker, who represents West Maui, has been monitoring developments at Honokowai Kauhale and was told by Seddon two weeks ago that the state would be lowering rental rates at the project as a way to fill vacant units.

Baker, D-5th Dist., said in an email yesterday she intends to “follow up” with Seddon on the reasons for the rent increase letters.

The letters said residents who moved into Honokowai Kauhale before November 2008 will see these rent increases:

One bedroom one bath – from $765 to $775

Two bedroom one bath – $945 to $955

Two bedroom two bath – $1,000 to $1,030

Three bedroom two bath – $1,065 to $1,100

According to rental forms given to prospective tenants last month, rents for new residents start at $1,000 and range to $1,500 per month.

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com