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Financial divorce over $1B public housing redevelopment includes claims of lavish spending

They found a number of questionable expenditures that Hunt tried to pass off to the agency, and ultimately to taxpayers.
Published: May. 27, 2022 at 7:12 PM HST|Updated: May. 28, 2022 at 10:02 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The nasty financial divorce over the $1 billion redevelopment of the Mayor Wright Housing project is flaring up with accusations of lavish spending.

The dispute comes as the state is moving ahead with a new plan to rebuild the public housing project.

In reports presented at board meetings, the Hawaii Public Housing Authority said that after it terminated its agreement with Hunt Companies in 2020, it found a number of questionable expenditures that Hunt tried to pass off to the agency — and ultimately to taxpayers.

According to the HPHA, it included:

  • $800 in prime rib dinners for employees, complete with fine wines and whiskey
  • Nearly $500,000 in disputed fees paid to a construction firm;
  • and improper mileage reimbursements of $2 for employees’ travel from Hunt’s downtown offices to the HPHA’s Kalihi headquarters.

Affordable housing advocates are outraged.

“When when we say that affordable housing is the top priority in our community, but we see this bickering and nickel and diming? It really doesn’t serve the public,” said HI Good Neighbor member Tyler Dos Santos-Tam.

The HPHA has hired an outside law firm to resolve the dispute. It declined comment.

Hunt said they spent more than $4 million of its own money on the project and that the contract was unjustly terminated.

“We disagree with the gross mischaracterizations and false narratives advanced by HPHA leadership,” the company said.

With the demise of the deal with Hunt, the state is now looking to build affordable rentals and leasehold apartments.

S. Sen. Stanley Chang, D-Hawaii Kai, said the state legislature this year appropriated $10 million towards the development of 300 leasehold condos and 300 mixed-income rentals at Mayor Wright.

He also said prices and rents will largely be based on the cost of construction and only local owner-occupants can buy or rent.

“What people are really concerned about is they don’t want wealthy overseas investors or speculators to be using Hawaii housing as vehicles to park their money and to profit off of people,” Chang said.

The HPHA is now in the process of finalizing bid request for potential developers.

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