KALIHI (HawaiiNewsNow) – The Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church is demanding the Hawaii Public Housing Authority evict a church from a state owned building at a low income housing complex in Kalihi. The group also wants the state to collect back-rent for time the church has spent occupying the building without paying rent.
"It's basically a separation of church and state issue," said David Tveraas, the group's director. "The issue is this is a state building and the state is not allowed to be funding any private churches," he added.
Pastor Taavao Alualu told Hawaii News Now he opened the Solid Rock Fellowship Assembly of God in 2004 and moved into a state owned building on the grounds of what used to be called Kuhio Park Terrace (now called the Towers at Kuhio Park) in 2007. (When this story aired Tuesday, March 20 Alualu told Hawaii News Now he moved into the building in 1996, but called Wednesday to say he misspoke.) He said the building was so run down other groups declined offers to use it.
"The place was all rubbish. In front of the building was all graffiti, parties, drug dealing, and gangsters. We prayed for it and I asked the management office if we can use it. They said the place is too old. It is not safe," Alualu said.
Alualu said he agreed to renovate the building in return for permission to operate his church and other programs there.
"I spent $37 grand, $37 plus grand, to renovate the building and then use it for citizens patrol, food bank, prayer meeting, and to talk to outreach to the young people," Alualu said.
Hakim Ouansafi, who was named Executive Director of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority in December, 2011, is investigating.
"This matter came to my office yesterday and my staff and I along with the attorney general's office are working on it to find out some facts," Ouansafi said.
He said the church does not have exclusive use of the building. Other entities such as the Hawaii Foodbank use it regularly.
"This entity (the church) has spent over $40,000 in renovation and maintenance and they do bring a lot of service to the community. Having said that, it is something we were not aware of and are in the process of getting to the bottom of it to make sure that no laws are broken," Ouansafi told Hawaii News Now.
The Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church believe evicting the church would be the lawful course of action.
"They are getting access to a state building and use of utilities and other things that might accrue costs to tax payers," Tveraas said.
Alualu believes the money he spent renovating the building, the money he continues to spend on maintenance, and the service he provides to the community justifies his church being there.
"They knew that I spent a lot of money here, so that's my rent. And I'm willing, if they want me, whoever wants me, to pay more rent. Even though it's not fair - I will," Alualu said.