Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Musings: Exploitive Exploits

In Hawaii, kupuna are typically treated with respect — except at Lihue Court Townhomes (LCT), a low-income rental project managed by Mutual Housing Association of Hawaii and a member of the national NeighborWorks America.

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?

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.


Anonymous said...

The managers should be ashamed of themselves.

Anonymous said...


thank you

Anonymous said...

You should contact NeighborWorks and the Mutual Housing board:

Dorothy D. Letts, President
Kelly Walsh, Vice President
Dee Darby, Treasurer
Jane Sawyer, Secretary
John W. Anderson, Jr., Board Member
Patricia K. Brandt, Board Member
Chris Wagner, Board Member
Richard Koenig, Advisory Board Member
Oswald Stender, Advisory Board Member
Jan Sullivan, Advisory Board Member
Warren G. Haight, Advisory Board Member

Anonymous said...

Get rid of these dorks! Let's review the job descriptions for these clowns. I would be happy to pick her up and she can come to our house for the time difference! You three should be fired!

Anonymous said...

LOL looks like nothing has changed at LCT. I guess it's because Mutual Housing's administration hasn't changed.

Anonymous said...

The employees should drive all the tenants everywhere on their own time and pay for extra everything. Obviously the nonprofit is loaded and should provide every extra ever requested because there are no limits to what it can provide. Good thing we have Joan to whip up uninformed moral outrage. I swear, the lady is more judgmental and deaf to anything outside her moral opinions than any tv evangelist!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this story. This is the reality of too many of Kauai residents. Many people need help. Contrast this to the million dollar units around the island and the contrast is stark.

Anonymous said...

@10:57. You sound pretty judgmental yourself.

I respect Joan's moral compass. One reason I read this blog is she's not afraid to speak truth to power or stand up for what's right. Go Joan!

Anonymous said...

Section 8/ low income housing where the poor and elderly are preyed upon by drug dealers and non profit scammers. Normal every day life in paradise. Shhh why complain- it's all domestics!

Anonymous said...

How about prying loose some
dollars from the millions that are spent luring tourists to "share our
paradise and aloha?"

How many Kauai residents have
turned back & away from enjoying our beaches because no place to park and too many tourists! Let's take care of our own before we bring more visitors in. Thanks Joan.

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy the election is over. Now you do stories on things that matter and uncover some major corruption. Before all your energy was wasted on Shaylene...

Anonymous said...

2:35 - "....wasted on Shaylene"? Is she in office?

Anonymous said...

re;12;43.....count me as one who avoids the NS spots cuz of too many people, and i dont go hanalei side unless i need to....still get secret spots here and there so i check those first for surf/fish but i have noticed when somebody sees you out there the secret is pau and eventually the spot gets more used. i was surprised at the congestion at wanini last time i went. times are changing....but if you are willing to explore there are many places to relive the old times....a boat helps and would be nice if the big landowners unlocked some of the gates to let us get back to the mountains like before that would be nice.....aloha dean

Elaine Albertson said...

I'm so blessed for having found...and gotten into...Kekaha Plantation. It's also owned by a private corp (EAH Housing), but is managed, maintained, and operated exceptionally well. I've not experienced any of the crap that I know of (from Joan and others) re LCT. Those of us who are, for whatever reasons, limited to Social Security or disability for income have no resource other than honest people. Joan is one of them. It doesn't surprise me in the slightest that she would jump in and help this lady directly.

Anonymous said...

You are a kind person, Joan.
I think what happened to these people is also called elder abuse.
Doesnʻt matter if itʻs not done by a family member.

They should be reported for elder abuse and have that on records.

Anonymous said...

well it's about time that you started focusing on things that matter on Kauai and helping those that are not able to help themselves-rather than just stirring the pot on issues that are only targeted on one particular community-Bravo!

Elaine Albertson said...

These are ALL issues that matter to Kaua'i. We have to get off our 'okoles and take action. Nothing will change otherwise.

Anonymous said...

You must have started reading Joan's blog when shaymeljake was a hot topic.

If you go back some years ago, Joan, Andy parx news and island breath has always taken on issues many people on Kauai whisper about but it was never discussed in a public forum.

Now there's a number of blogs, Facebook pages, and other Internet sites that identify social issues on Kauai and people are free to come up with solutions or just rant.

Time has changed so save the big ovation for a round of applause.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for continuing to do this type of reporting. Oahu's daily rag on Kauai is too incompetent and misguided to take on these types of stories. What fluff will Bill Buley write about next? His favorite shave ice? Extortion, corruption, drugs, illegal gambling, west side prostitution, wasteful government spending, lack of infrastructure repair, failing public schools are just too boring. Shave ice, Chicken Man in Kapaa, regurgitated county press releases, pathetic, pathetic, pathetic.