State affordable housing sits vacant as convicted felons cruise the grounds

By   /   August 30, 2011  /   News  /   No Comments

MAUI – Despite an acute shortage of affordable housing here, 40 percent of units at the state’s Honokowai Kauhale project – 71 of 184 apartments — have been vacant for periods ranging from months to more than five years, according to interviews and property records.

Vacancies are not the only problem at Honokowai Kauhale, said residents and a former longtime employee there.
Some residents, who asked not to be quoted by name, say they live in fear of property manager Lisa Faleafine and her live-in boyfriend, Iokepa Auwae, who is on parole for crimes including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnapping, armed robbery and firearms offenses.
Faleafine and the property management firm that employs her, Realty Laua, LLC, did not respond to requests for comment. Realty Laua last year received a new, three-year, $1.75 million contract from HHFDC to manage the project.
The management company told the state that that there is no waiting list of applicants, said Kent Miyasaki , spokesman for the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp., the state agency that owns the project.
“They said the waiting list has been exhausted,” Miyasaki said, a claim that is disputed by tenants and now under investigation by the HHFDC.
“Since it has come to our attention, we’re looking into it a lot closer,” Miyasaki said, noting that the agency was unaware of the high vacancy figure until contacted about it by Hawaii Reporter.
HHFDC owns 1,437 apartments in nine housing projects on the Big Island, Maui and Oahu.
Faleafine left a similar property management job at another state housing project on the Big Island in 2002 after state officials literally wept with shame when confronted with the deplorable living conditions there.
At Honokowai Kauhale, Faleafine has hired Auwae and another convicted felon who recently moved into the project, Genghis Kaihewalu, as groundskeepers, according to residents and Glenn Ishikawa, a former maintenance supervisor who was fired by Faleafine earlier this year.
Auwae and Kaihewalu cruise the grounds in a small gas-powered vehicle and have master keys to all units in Honokowai Kauhale, Ishikawa and residents said.
Auwae, Faleafine’s boyfriend, was sentenced in January 2000 to a 20-year prison term for his role in a drug-related plot to abduct and murder two Maui residents.
Auwae and another man helped Calvin Elizares kidnap the victims because one owed Elizares a drug debt, according to court records.
Elizares planned to murder both victims but abandoned the plan after one escaped from the trunk of a car and ran away.
Auwae was paroled in February 2009.
Kaihewalu, 36, has been convicted of burglary, robbery and firearms charges.
Honokowai Kauhale residents interviewed by Hawaii Reporter did not accuse either man of criminal conduct while at the housing project.
Hawaii Reporter repeatedly asked state officials what restrictions are placed on the tenancy or employment of convicted felons at state-owned affordable housing projects.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which underwrites public housing facilities around the country, has loosened such restrictions in recent years and now has lifetime tenancy bans on a limited class of criminals, including sex offender and amphetamine manufacturers, according to San Francisco HUD spokeswoman Gene Gibson.
But Gibson said states can and do adopt more stringent residency restrictions.
Miyasaki said HUD rules don’t apply at Honokowai Kauhale because no federal funds are committed to the project. Miyasaki did not know if any state regulations prohibit convicted felons from living in state affordable housing facilities.
As for employment of parolees and convicted felons at such facilities, Miyasaki referred Hawaii Reporter to state laws which generally prohibit employers from discrimination based on “arrest or court record.”
The vacancy rate at Honokowai Kauhale far outstrips rates at seven other projects owned by HHFDC, according to data provided by Miyasaki.
Only one other project, Kamaaina Hale in Kona, has a higher vacancy number – 55 per cent – because of asbestos removal and cleaning in 70 units there, according to the data.
At Honokowai Kauhale, 37 units are ready for occupancy and 32 others are in disrepair, Miyasaki said.
But Ishikawa, the former project maintenance supervisor, said there are actually 71 vacancies at the project, most of them long-term because Faleafine has been slow to approve repairs and to process rental applications.
Eight of the vacant units were refurbished some 18 months ago by state-paid private contractors but Faleafine hasn’t approved final minor repairs like “replacing a cabinet door or hanging a bedroom door,” according to Ishikawa.
Ishikawa is protesting his termination at Honokowai Kauhale to the state Labor Department.
Realty Laua is under contract with the state to manage Honokowai Kauhale and other public housing projects in the Islands.
Faleafine’s father, Lui Faleafine, headed the corporate predecessor of Realty Laua. Her brother, Robert Faleafine, is now chief executive of Laua and past manager of the state’s largest public housing project, Kuhio Park Terrace/Kuhio Homes, in the Kalihi neighborhood of Honolulu.
In June, Realty Laua agreed to pay $225,000 to settle federal and state lawsuits alleging discrimination in the treatment of disabled residents at Kuhio Park Terrace/Kuhio Homes. The state was also a defendant in the suits and agreed to pay $200,000 to settle them. Neither defendant admitted wrongdoing.
Lisa Faleafine made news in 2002 when residents of a Kona public housing project she managed for the state joined forces with Big Island prosecutors and public interest groups to publicly air evidence of squalid living conditions and mismanagement at the complex.
"It was very traumatic," said then-state housing agency director Stephanie Aveiro in 2003.
"Some of us were literally in tears. I was ashamed by what I saw,” said Aveiro.
Faleafine was transferred to the property management job at Honokowai Kauhale on Maui.
Jim Dooley is an investigative reporter with Hawaii Reporter