BY JIM DOOLEY – Lawsuits describing “deplorable and hazardous” living conditions at the state-owned Mayor Wright Homes project were filed in state and federal court today, alleging that residents, including severely disabled individuals, have endured years of rat, roach and bedbug infestations, leaky and broken pipes, and “an almost total lack of hot water.”
Lawyers for Equal Justice the filed class action suits on behalf of residents at the low-income housing project in Honolulu.
LEJ attorney Victor Geminiani said the Hawaii Public Housing Authority has known of the problems at Mayor Wright Homes for years but failed to address them.
“Years of media coverage of the serious problems at MWH and the HPHA’s own 2008 audit of the deplorable and hazardous conditions throughout the project” did not result in adequate changes at the complex, the second largest public housing project in Hawaii, said Geminiani.
Three disabled Mayor Wright Homes residents are lead plaintiffs in both suits.
One of them Frances Wong, a MWH resident since 1970, is wheelchair-bound by a stroke and suffers from pulmonary disease, according to the suit.
Wong can’t safely get in or out of her bathtub and the doors to her bathroom are not wide enough to accommodate her wheelchair, the suit alleged.
Wong “is especially tormented by vermin, including roaches, mice and bedbugs from which she cannot escape,” the suit said.
Visits from a physical therapist were terminated because of the bedbug infestation, according to the complaint.
Mayor Wright residents have been increasingly vocal in their complaints about conditions there, particularly the regular lack of hot water supplies.
Governor Neil Abercrombie visited the site after residents protested publicly at the Capitol this year, promising “immediate repairs” to the faulty hot water supply system.
In February, the HPHA’s request to award a $798,000 non-bid, sole-source “emergency” hot water repair contract was rejected by Chief Procurement Officer Aaron Fujioka.
Fujioka said HPHA has “long been aware of” deteriorated solar panels and water tanks at Mayor Wright but failed to fix the problem.
“This situation is a consequence of poor management and lack of proper timely response which resulted in the current situation,” Fujioka wrote in denying the emergency spending.
“The emergency procurement process is not to be used to rectify a situation that was preventable and caused by poor management,” Fujioka continued.
HPHA amended its procurement request to follow Fujioka’s directive.
Housing Planner Nicholas Birck said the agency deferring scheduled repair and maintenance work at other HPHA projects to fund the Mayor Wright work.
“We consider lack of hot water to be a major priority,” said Birck.
The Legislature has earmarked Mayor Wright repair funds in the state budget now nearing final passage.
Geminiani said today, “The state’s continued failure to fund over $350 million in critical repairs needed throughout our public housing system has resulted in 25,000 residents of public housing living for years in vermin-infested apartments without hot water and garbage collection.”
The situation at Mayor Wright Homes “is just one more example of the deplorable condition public housing has been allowed to become by ineffective state planning and action,” he said.