The buildings at LCT were constructed of untreated wood, prompting the need for regular termite treatments. One such tenting is currently under way at a building that houses a 95-year-old lady, Miss Gennii. A veteran of WWII, Miss Gennii has a long life of public service behind her, but very little money and no family, which is why she's living alone at LCT.
Recently, the staff at LCT dumped a bunch of plastic bags off at Miss Gennii's apartment and told her to prepare for the tenting. If she needed help bagging all the food, toiletries and medicines in her apartment, they would provide it — at a cost of $25 per hour.
She and the other affected residents were told that meals would be provided while they were unable to access their units. However, they would have to return to LCT to be fed, which was problematic for Miss Gennii, since she uses a walker and has no car.
They were also told they would be put up at Tip Top overnight. If they chose to stay elsewhere, they had to pay out of pocket and later would be reimbursed $75 per night. Miss Gennii decided to stay at the Kauai Palms, since she felt it would be safer and it's close to LCT, which would make it easier for meals to be delivered. She asked to be reimbursed for a second night because she felt physically unable to return to her unit at night. She also needed a place to rest during the seven hours between checkout and the time she could return to her unit.
The management of LCT — Dave Nakamura, Roland Ruiz and Brian Alston — refused her request for a second night and balked at delivering her meals. About this time I got involved, because I used to work at LCT and had myself delivered meals to residents who had no transportation. I'd also seen residents with physical limitations get reimbursed for a second night's stay.
So I called Roland, who said he would need to check with Dave, who officially nixed the request. In an undated, unsigned letter, Roland claimed that as a nonprofit, LCT can't afford to reimburse her $75 for a second night. Yet he and Brian each are paid about $50,000 per year and Dave makes a six-figure salary.
They eventually agreed to bring her meals, though Brian said he planned to draft other residents for delivery service. It's just one of the many ways that residents at LCT are routinely exploited because they are fearful of losing their units. Previously they had a manager who extorted a monthly kickback from residents who were legally qualified to have comfort animals and stole their aluminum cans to buy alcohol for the staff Christmas party.
I asked Roland where he expected a 95-year-old woman in a walker who needed regular access to a bathroom to hang out for hours, since there was a sizable gap between hotel check in and check out times and the tenting schedule.
“She can sit in our meeting room,” he said with an imperious air.
I wonder, would he expect his own tutu to sit in a straight chair in a room also occupied by 50 rambunctious kids from the Boys and Girls Club for seven hours, two days running? Would he, Dave or Brian let their own tutu stay alone at a dive like Tip Top?
Where's the compassion, the respect?
Where's the compassion, the respect?
Such an attitude wouldn't be unusual in a for-profit apartment complex. But Mutual Housing, which receives significant government funding assistance, prides itself on being different from other housing projects because it has a resident services program specifically to assist the tenants, many of whom are old and/or physically and mentally challenged.
But when such assistance is actually needed, it's not there. It's all for show to impress government agencies and funders who think they're helping an organization that is in fact regularly running over people who are among the most vulnerable members of our community.
I talked to the HUD fair housing officer in Honolulu, and he said that Miss Gennii's requests seemed entirely reasonable, so I'm going to make sure she gets reimbursed. I already paid out of my own pocket for an early check-in, helped her pack up her stuff and will bring her home and get her unpacked. So things will likely work out for Miss Gennii because she has an advocate and her own wits about her.
But many others do not. They are entirely alone, and typically afraid to speak up. One resident at LCT was a virtual prisoner in her apartment for several years because the management had ignored her request for a wheelchair ramp. She never wanted to press the issue for fear she'd lose her apartment, even though federal laws require landlords to make reasonable accommodations for disabled residents.
So next time you're tempted to grumble about people who are getting HUD, think instead “there but for the grace of God go I.” Because if you knew how much paperwork, invasion of privacy, micro-management of one's life, landlord exploitation and flat-out fear is associated with housing subsidies, you'd be grateful for your ability to pay market rate.
And next time you're tempted to give a donation to a nonprofit, or laud its services, dig a little deeper. You just might find their mission statement diverges wildly from their actual operations. I've worked for four nonprofits on Kauai, and though they all had worthwhile goals, the actual execution was invariably stymied by dysfunctional mismanagement and a propensity to waste gobs of cash.