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Volunteer Program Repairs Oahu’s Public Housing Apartments


Photos: Courtesy Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance.

Painting, caulking and sweeping. That’s all the fixing-up many empty public-housing apartments need in order for low-income families to receive a new home. But as simple as most of these repairs are, an estimated 200 to 300 public-housing units currently sit vacant and in disrepair.

It’s up to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA) to restore these un-occupied units, often after the previous tenants are relocated or move out, but because of budget cuts, many derelict units stay derelict, sometimes for months or years.

At one point, more than 700 units were vacant, says Doran Porter, the president and CEO of the nonprofit, Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance. What’s worse, 6,000 to 7,000 people statewide—some of whom are homeless—are on the waiting list to get into public housing, sometimes waiting for up to seven years, he says.

To remedy the situation, in 2007, state Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland brought together nonprofits, local businesses and community members to start the Volunteers Instilling Pride program, or VIP.

“It’s an exciting program,” says Porter. “It got started because of lack of funding and resources. [The housing authority] had such a backlog and it continued to grow and grow. They haven’t maintained the units well.”

VIP volunteers began by repairing apartments mostly in the urban core, at complexes such as Kuhio Park Terrace. After a hiatus, the program was restarted this year. So far, more than 200 units have been repaired, including 14 in Wahiawa last month.

Anyone can volunteer, says Porter. VIP participants have included nonprofit staff, military members, home-improvement-business employees and citizen volunteers.

“HPHA brings in a list of the units that are currently sitting empty and what [each one] needs and then we schedule groups to go in and work in those units,” says Porter. “Some units require electric work, or need re-roofing, which requires more technical labor, but what we do is primarily painting and cleaning.”

The VIP program addresses quick fixes, but, says Porter, the state needs to do major renovations to public-housing complexes island-wide, of which were built in the 1950s and ’60s.

“[The units] are at the end of what might be considered normal lifespan for a rental unit,” he says. “Buildings do have a life, and I think we’ve stretched them way beyond that time period, especially for these apartments that may not have been built the best in the first place.”

Residents at Kuhio Park Terrace are seeing such renovations, but only after successfully winning a class-action lawsuit against the state to improve the complex’s deplorable conditions. Tenants at Mayor Wright Housing are seeking similar renovations after lawyers filed another class-action lawsuit against the state in April.

But says Porter, the VIP program is a start, giving some families a place to call home. “Anything we can do, helps,” Porter says.

For more information, or to volunteer, visit the Affordable Housing and Homeless Alliance website, or contact Kent Anderson at 203-6718, or via email at homes4ohana@gmail.com.


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Honolulu Magazine May 2019
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