Exclusive: State doubles evictions from public housing this fall
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -
A federal and state crackdown has prompted increased evictions from public housing projects across the state, with more on the way.
The Inspector General's office from the U.S. Housing Department has been investigating tenants at federal housing projects on Oahu for the past several months, sources said. Federal agents have been interviewing tenants and checking their backgrounds, tenants said. That federal probe along with the state's own investigations have been getting results.
"We believe that each property has a certain amount of fraud happening and it's truly difficult for us to know until we actually do an investigation," said Hawaii Public Housing Authority Executive Director Hakim Ouansafi.
Ouansafi won't confirm or deny the federal probe. He said his own state investigators are cracking down on whether tenants are lying about their household income to qualify for public housing or covering up felony or sex offender criminal backgrounds that would get them thrown out. Others try to hide assets such as bank and investments accounts, Ouansafi said.
Sources said the feds are using FBI and IRS agents who could bring federal criminal charges against fraudulent tenants at 5,500 federal housing units across the state.
"Not only people might lose their housing, but they maybe end up in jail. It's a matter that we take very seriously," Ouansafi said.
Ouansafi said dozens of tenants have been evicted statewide in the last several months, roughly twice as many as last fall. Another six or evictions are still ongoing, he said.
"We were able to evict a tremendous amount of people who were taking advantage of the taxpayers," Ouansafi said.
He said the highest percentage of evictions is on Kauai, where tenants are getting kicked out for failing to pay their rent or breaking rules such as drinking in public.
"Kauai seems to stand up as probably one of the worst, followed by Oahu, then by Maui and then the Big Island," Ouansafi added.
Another federal program called Section 8 pays rent subsidies to private landlords of low-income people. Ouansafi said so far three families have lost their vouchers on Oahu because they were committing fraud, including one accused of receiving fraudulent rent subsidies for six years.
The crackdown comes at a time when the Housing Authority has reached its highest occupancy level ever and there is still a waiting list. So evictions are making room for legitimately needy families to find a new home.