BY JIM DOOLEY – Dozens of letters of support have been written to the state on behalf of embattled Maui housing project manager Lisa Faleafine by residents of the apartment complex she oversees.
The letters are addressed to Karen Seddon, executive director of the Hawaii Housing and Finance Development Corp., owner of Honokowai Kauhale, a 184-unit West Maui “affordable housing” project where nearly 40 per cent of the units are vacant.
Seddon has ordered a “compliance audit” to determine the reasons for the high vacancy rate at the facility, which contributes to an acute shortage of affordable housing in the West Maui area.
The letters describe Faleafine as a sensitive and attentive landlord who cares for the residents and their children at Honokowai Kauhale.
“I have seen her take care of the property and especially other tenants’ children when they had to leave in the middle of the night for an emergency,” one letter writer said.
“Lisa also has a weekly art class and ukulele class free of charge,” the letter continued.
“She also had the weekly ‘Feed My Sheep’ which is similar to the Food Bank Program right on site to help those who were struggling in between paychecks so their family would not go without food,” the same letter writer said.
At least three children also wrote letters on behalf of Faleafine, who they described as “Aunty Lisa.”
The letters were sent from a common email address — HonokowaiKauhale@yahoo.com – but don’t share the common language or structure found in many organized letter-writing campaigns.
Several of the writers blamed the high vacancies at Honokowai Kauhale on high rental rates assessed new tenants at the project, which was built in 1989.
“Yes we have many vacant units but only because in 2008 they raised the rent and nobody wants to pay $1,200 for an apartment that is supposed to be ‘low income,’” one writer said.
“If (it) was like before we would be full with a long wait list!! But how is that Lisa’s fault??” the resident wrote.
A number of negative letters about Faleafine and her live-in boyfriend, state parolee Iokepa Auwae, have also
been written to Seddon.
Some of the new letters letters praised Auwae, who is on parole from state prison following convictions for kidnapping, conspiracy to commit murder, robbery and gun offenses.
“I am a single mom with 3 young children and to them he is “uncle kepa” the first one they run to if they brake a toy or to fix their bike, or even giving my oldest son 14 yrs. old … talks about being a good kid and positive guidance about what not to do,” one resident wrote.
Hawaii Reporter last month disclosed the high vacancy rate and the backgrounds of Faleafine, Auwae and another convicted felon, Genghis Kaihewalu, who works with Auwae as a groundskeeper at Honokowai Kauhale.
Faleafine previously worked as a property manager at a state-owned public housing project on the Big Island that was harshly criticized in 2002 for mismanagement problems and substandard living conditions.
Her family owns the company that has contracted with the state to manage various affordable and low-income housing projects around the state.
Seddon and HHFDC spokesman Kent Miyasaki have given limited responses to questions about the rental and vacancy rates at Honokowai Kauhale.
State Rep. Angus McKelvey, D-10th (Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua, Maalaea, Kihei), said last week that HHFDC wants the rents lowered and vacant units occupied within 30 days.
Seddon would not confirm that statement, saying she is waiting for completion of the compliance audit.
Miyasaki said HHFDC’s asset manager position was vacant for an extended period of time – it was recently filled – and the agency did not know of the high vacancy rate at Honokowai Kauhale until questioned about it by Hawaii Reporter.
He said 37 units are ready for rental and 32 need repair work before they can be occupied.
Glenn Ishikawa, former Honokowai Kauhale maintenance supervisor, said last month 71 units are vacant – some for months and some for as long as five years.
He said the state and Faleafine have been slow to order necessary repairs.
Realty Laua LLC, the Faleafine company that holds a $1.75 million, three-year contract to manage Honokowai Kauhale, has not responded to requests for comment.
HHFDC owns 1,437 apartments in nine housing projects on the Big Island, Maui and Oahu. See the list of projects and vacancies here: Housing Projects