WASHINGTON — Honolulu still hasn’t told the federal government how many people use a Wahiawa elderly care center under investigation for possible misuse of federal funds.
In a Sept. 23 letter obtained by Civil Beat, city Budget Director Michael Hansen wrote that Honolulu is “actively seeking” to address a slew of concerns that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development raised about the city’s plans to bring ORI Anuenue Hale into federal compliance. The letter was in response to a Sept. 9 letter from the federal agency.
But in multiple cases, Hansen didn’t provide the specific information HUD requested.
During routine monitoring last spring, HUD said it found so many compliance issues at the Wahiawa facility that it threatened to recoup $7.9 million in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the city if it failed to take “immediate corrective action.”
The city has repeatedly said it will do anything it takes to avoid repaying the money. ORI has rejected HUD’s claims but agreed to work with the city to meet federal standards.
ORI claims it serves 10 times as many clients as the handful of people HUD reported seeing at the facility during its investigation. Civil Beat’s count during one visit to the facility was consistent with what HUD reported. On a subsequent Civil Beat visit, there were about a dozen clients at the center.
In its letter, HUD asked specific questions about the 50 clients ORI says it serves: “How does the City and ORI define ‘regular basis,’ daily, weekly, monthly?”
But in the response to HUD, Hansen was vague about what the city is doing to address underutilization problems at the facility, merely writing that it is “actively seeking to address” the matter.
The city was similarly ambiguous in response to a question about whether the facility charges fees that would preclude low- and moderate-income clients from renting its Camp Pineapple 808 cabins.
“(ORI) has stated that any fees that are charged for the use of its CDBG-assisted facilities are not excessive in nature,” the city wrote.
But the letter does not indicate a specific fee or rate.
However, in response to some other concerns, the city provided specifics and in some cases records or forms that HUD requested. For example:
• The city is continuing to freeze CDBG funding to ORI, and provided related documentation
• The city provided HUD with a draft eligibility form that updates the definition of the “severely disabled” clients that ORI serves
• The city reiterated its commitment to monitoring the ORI site quarterly, and submitting reports to the federal government. The first report is due at the end of October.
Hansen reported that city officials have exchanged “numerous” phone calls and emails with ORI, in addition to in-person meetings, in order to bring the facility into compliance.
HUD has given Honolulu a deadline of Oct. 31 to resolve all of the questions it raised. The federal agency is requiring progress reports from the city every 15 days until that time.