Mayor Wright Homes: Public Housing Hell
Gang activity, rat infestations, deteriorating walls and ceilings, and, until this June, no hot, running water. For the approximately 1,100 tenants of Mayor Wright Homes, this is life. Years of neglect forced residents to sue the state. Lawyers want to settle the case this year to finally reverse these deplorable conditions. But for these residents, positive change has been years in the making.
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Kolio, a stocky man who seldom makes eye contact when he talks, is a well-known figure at Mayor Wright. The 43-year-old has lived in the housing complex since 2004. He resides in a one-bedroom, ground-floor unit with his wife, Eleanor, and is Wong’s neighbor.
In 2009, he was elected president of the tenant’s association, a position in which he takes great pride. He goes out of his way to get to know not only his neighbors, but also residents throughout the complex. He listens to their problems and helps them speak to the police and building management, particularly Micronesian residents who are new to the area. He spent hours walking us around the complex, pointing out cracked windows and decomposing roof eaves, and talking story with tenants along the way. With his outgoing nature, he was a natural choice as a plaintiff in the lawsuit (Wong is one, too).
Shortly after becoming association president, Kolio started a citizen’s patrol. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, from 10 p.m. to midnight, Kolio and a handful of residents walk the complex with a security guard.
“I’m not trying to rely too much on the Public Housing Authority or police because it’s going nowhere,” says Kolio. “It’s almost senseless, it’s like talking to a brick wall.”
Geminiani says security is a lynchpin of the lawsuit. “You’ve got these guards that are not trained, that are not picked out from a particularly good quality base,” he says. He’s arguing for better training for guards, a stronger enforcement protocol and a better relationship with the Kalihi-beat police officers.