EXCLUSIVE: Mayor Wright tenants to share $350K

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state has agreed to settle a lawsuit over rat- and roach-infested conditions at Mayor Wright Homes.

More than 400 tenants will share $350,000 in the deal, which requires approval from the state Legislature and the signature of a Circuit judge.

"I did a survey personally and about 70 percent of the housing units did not have hot water on a regular basis," said state Rep. Karl Rhoads, whose district includes Mayor Wright.

"Security was terrible, there was all kinds of violence and stabbings and a couple of murders."

Tenants sued the state back in 2011 seeking major renovations at 61-year-old state public housing project. Some alleged they got sick by breathing in traces of roach and rat droppings.

But the case bounced around the court for several years before it finally was settled.

In a letter to tenants in 2012,  the head of the state Public Housing Authority Hakim Ouansafi accused residents' attorneys of trying to "enrich themselves" and called out one of the plaintiffs for stealing from the project's association.

But the state did agreed to make major fixes around the time the suit was filed.

Then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie did get the hot water running again. And Ouansafi did live at one of the 364 units for a time to get a first hand look at the problems."

But the biggest changes are to come. The state recently announced that a private developer will knock down the structures and build 1,200 low and moderate income units, plus retail space and maybe even a hotel.

"The lawsuit, probably did have an effect to move up the timetable on the redevelopment," said Rhoads.

"When they looked at these buildings and (probably) said it's crazy to repair these. Just tear them down and start all over."

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