Residents in Hilo condo fear rent hikes, being kicked out as state lifts eviction moratorium

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Published: Jul. 16, 2021 at 5:31 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 16, 2021 at 5:49 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A group of residents in a Hilo housing project are expressing concern that they’ll be evicted from their affordable units when Hawaii’s eviction moratorium ends next month.

But the building’s management company says the concerns are being overblown.

Residents in affordable units at Waiakea Villas say they started getting text messages from building management in May alerting them to expect a 45-day notice to vacate.

“Our current tenants in older units will have to leave eventually due to the remodeling plans of all of units here that we own,” said the message.

Resident Miguel Jimenez got the texts.

“They are evicting senior citizens, elderly, handicapped, disabled, anyone on Section 8, county housing,” said Jimenez.

Resident Peter Veseskis rents an affordable unit and got a letter from Tower Waiakea Apartments, telling him units will be renovated once the eviction moratorium ends Aug. 6.

He said he’s not sure where he’ll go if he has to leave.

“This is a hardship. I’m going to be homeless living on the streets,” said Veseskis. “I pay $800 a month rent. I looked online. The cheapest rent I could find was $1200. My Social Security is only $973.”

Tower Development owns 160 of the 200 units at Waiakea Villas and only some are affordable. Renovations started about eight months ago and the plan is to complete them in half a year.

Tower Development CEO Ed Bushor said the company wants to help the community by creating affording housing in Hilo. He said someone is “blowing up concerns.”

“We have no plans to evict good paying tenants,” said Bushor. “We are not trying to be mean to someone and kick someone out.”

Bushor said residents whose units are undergoing repairs can move to vacant ones. But, he said, “they might be expected to pay more.”

Kristen Alice, of HOPE Services Hawaii, is Villas resident and is helping others in the building. She said to inform residents via text message about the prospect of them having to leave is “heartless.”

She says service providers are sounding the alarm because there’s a lack of affordable housing and many Big Island landlords are refusing Section 8 vouchers.

“I’m concerned because we are about to see a tsunami of evictions if Tower is allowed to move forward with their plans,” said Alice.

State Sen. Laura Acasio says her office has been overwhelmed with calls of concern. The residents are now looking into forming a tenants union.

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