"The state is the largest landlord in this state. It's also by far the largest slum lord in the state."
Those comments came from Victor Geminiani, an attorney with Lawyers for Equal Justice, on the day he filed class action lawsuits in state and federal courts against the Hawaii Public Housing Authority on behalf of residents at Mayor Wright Homes.
The suits claim the state-run low-income housing at Mayor Wright, the state's second largest public housing development, is unsafe, unsanitary, and inaccessible. Geminiani alleges the Hawaii Public Housing Authority is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Fair Housing Act.
"It's obviously the most unaccommodating playground I've ever seen in my life," Geminiani said while referring to a dirt playground with nothing but partially buried tires and a few circular pieces of wood for children to play on.
"Most of the units don't have hot water. Some of them have it on very, very sunny days for maybe 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon, but that's about it. The accommodations are not Americans with Disabilities accessible so you have many people here who are elderly and disabled with strokes, and spinal problems and other very difficult diseases that they are coping with and yet they are on second and third floor accommodations and they can't get into their bathrooms because of the size of the door and they can't get into the bathtub even if they could because of the barrier in front of the bathtub," Geminiani said.
He also said units are infested with rats, bed bugs and other vermin. He pointed to overflowing trash bins which he said create a health hazard. And he said security at Mayor Wright is insufficient.
The state is aware of the trouble at Mayor Wright Homes. The Hawaii Public Housing Authority has itself estimated the development needs $350 million in repairs.
In early March Governor Neil Abercrombie toured the development and promised residents repairs would be made so all units would have hot running water.
"It's going to be immediate, and it's going to succeed," Abercrombie said.
"The water still has not been fixed. It will take some time. And I appreciate, to be frank with you, the governor's interest in Mayor Wright and taking care of some of the serious issues, particularly the hot water. But we've not seen much progress in the last month, month and a half," Geminiani said.
When our Hawaii News Now crew visited Mayor Wright Homes Thursday, April 21 we recorded video of a few men on roof tops making repairs, but the lawsuits allege it will take a much greater effort to bring the development into compliance with federal standards.
"The legislature has got to start appropriating sufficient funds to be able to make the repairs that are necessary, not only in this project, but statewide," Geminiani said.
Denise Wise, Executive Director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority, was not available for comment Thursday, but an administrator there said it is too early to comment since the suits were just filed.