Gov. Neil Abercrombie has put our money where his mouth is.
Within months of promising to restore hot water to Honolulu’s Mayor Wright Homes, he appropriated $2.5 million to fix the problem. As if underlining how seriously he wants to tackle the issue, he spent part of Tuesday afternoon touring the public housing complex. The governor met with residents and insisted he be held accountable for change.
How quickly will residents have hot water?
“It’s going to be immediate,” Abercrombie told reporters. “And it’s going to succeed. And they can hold me to account for that.”
The plight has become a test for Abercrombie. If residents in a private apartment didn’t have hot water, it would likely be a violation of the lease and the tenant could take legal action — and withhold rent. At Mayor Wright, the state is the landlord.
Mayor Wright residents say they’ve had to deal with broken solar water heaters for years. Cold showers and poor sanitation have become the norm.
Most residents didn’t appear overexcited with the governor’s presence, instead saying they were reserving their elation for when new heaters were actually installed. Still, there was a sense of optimism.
After years of feeling ignored by politicians, a visit by the state’s top executive seemed to lift spirits and raise hopes that things might finally be heading in the right direction. And for Mayor Wright, that new direction couldn’t come at a better time.
“Almost 30 something years I’m over here,” said Pamela Marks, 61. “No more hot water, no more light. You’re gonna get bus’ up when you come home. That’s what I hate… What’s up with this frickin’ solar? Broken down.”
Referring to the governor’s visit, Marks said: “We just vote. He like our vote, he gotta do something with this housing.”
Erry Eter, 57, has lived in Mayor Wright for seven years. When asked if he thought the governor’s visit would change anything, he chuckled and said, “I don’t know. Maybe. I hope there is change when our governor sees the problem here in Mayor Wright housing.” He said former Gov. Linda Lingle never visited Mayor Wright. “She sent out her officers but (never came) herself.”
Abercrombie arrived at the complex shortly before noon. The president of the tenant association, Fetu Kolio, showed him around as a herd of media followed.
Pictures were taken. Complaints made. Solutions discussed.
Abercrombie met with residents in a private meeting for close to half an hour. He said they talked about hot water, but also reflected on the greater issues facing public housing.
“We had a good discussion about what needed to be done, the way forward,” Abercrombie said. “There’s a lot of confidence up there, there’s a lot of motivation to pick themselves up and a lot of self help. A lot of excellent ideas for me, the Legislature, for the City and County to work cooperatively to make things move forward from here. I feel very, very good about the discussion.”
He said boosting Mayor Wright residents’ morale needs to be a priority.
“Because it’s public housing, that does not mean that the folks involved in it are any less in charge in their lives,” Abercrombie told reporters. “My goal as governor is to have everyone not only regard our administration as a catalyst, as a vehicle for progress, but that judgment is made by the media, the public, the community here and the broader public that that is in fact what we’re doing and we’re accomplishing that task.”
After the fourth or fifth question, the governor cut off the conversation. His budget — including the appropriation to restore hot water at Mayor Wright — is now in the hands of the Legislature.
For more Civil Beat coverage on the Mayor Wright public housing problems, click the links below.