Tenants of Honolulu affordable housing gathered Tuesday to voice concern over Mayor Peter Carlisle‘s plan to sell all 12 of the city’s buildings, with 1,257 affordable units.

The tenants, who met at the statue of Sun-Yat Sen in Chinatown, were not necessarily protesting the sale of the buildings. Rather, they insisted they be kept in the loop and wanted reassurances the buildings themselves would remain affordable.

“This new administration under Mayor Carlisle has been more collaborative and open to positive change and solutions,” said Cat Wong, president of the Ohana Housing Network Oahu (OH-NO), which helped rally the tenants. “We understand the mayor has his agenda to run the city to the best of his ability, and we believe protection of the residents in these buildings, for as long as possible, is a vital and necessary component of preserving the heart and spirit of the downtown community.”

Wong listed two goals OH-NO, representatives with Faith Action for Community Equity (FACE) and the tenants would push for:

1) “We must ensure affordability in perpetuity of these buildings. We must continually uphold conditions in any future sale that these residents will be able to stay in their homes and appropriate mechanisms are set up to protect affordability.”

2) “We would like to participate in a Residents Advisory Panel, as part of the commitment of Resolution 108 for the city to communicate and partner with residents, owners and managers.”

Resolution 108, adopted by the Honolulu City Council in 2008, lays out in more detail the expectations of the tenants. Essentially, it calls for the buildings to remain affordable long term, for the city to select a management group with experience with affordable housing, for that management group to include residents in decisions on the scope of any changes and rehabilitation work, and for a preference for local ownership among other things.

Only an hour before the tenants gathered, city officials held their own press conference to address the issue.

“It’s the city’s plan to offer the properties, 12 properties, for a leasehold sale with the condition that they remain affordable,” said Sam Moku, director of the Honolulu Department of Community Services, which will oversee the sale of the buildings. “We continue to welcome the input from the residents and others to ensure that the process is transparent, fair and fiscally prudent. Ultimately the City Council will have the approval authority regarding the leases.”

Moku said the city loses an average of $3 million a year by maintaining the buildings. He flatly said the city does not do a good job at management and that private ownership could prove advantageous to both tenants and taxpayers.

He said the city has been trying to sell the buildings for the last six years, and hopes to have the buildings out of the city budget within the next three.

“We don’t do a good job at managing these properties,” Moku said. “And currently, we are losing money on managing these properties and we want to make sure that the people who know how to do this work are able to provide good services for those families and also provide the potential of good renovations to those affordable properties.”

The city would ensure affordability in negotiations prior to sale, Moku said. The buildings need to be renovated, and investors would need to come up with ways to finance the buildings without significantly raising rent on tenants.

Moku said the city has already had preliminary talks with at least one potential buyer.

“I think FACE had introduced us to Carmel Partners, who was very interested and they’ve been in town before,” Moku said.

Ultimately, it seems that tenants, the nonprofits aiding their cause and city officials are on the same page.

“I met some of their leaders, their big men,” said Carol Anzai, 62, who has lived in affordable housing for 38 years, referring to Mayor Carlisle’s administration. “And you know, they’re really compassionate and they care what happens to our people. And of course, we know that the rent is going to go up — it has to go up. That’s the market. But we can’t go and get a four bedroom and pay $1000 a month out here in town. So it’s been good.”

The buildings to be sold include:

  • Bachelors Quarter’s (built in 1938), 10 units
  • Chinatown Gateway Plaza (1990), 200 units
  • Chinatown Manor (1993) 89 units
  • Harbor Village (1991), 90 units
  • Kanoa Apartments (1955), 14 units
  • Kulana Nani (1972), 160 units
  • Manoa Gardens 1992, 41 units
  • Mann Tower (1994), 236 units
  • Pauahi Hale (1982), 77 units
  • West Loch Elderly (1993), 150 units
  • Westlake Apartments (1973), 96 units
  • Winston Hale (1964), 94 units