Tuesday, January 6, 2009

NO ROOM AT THE DOGHOUSE

NO ROOM AT THE DOGHOUSE: The heroic efforts of Kaua`i activist Ann Punohu regarding the blatant discrimination against protected classes by landlords who reject tenants receiving “HUD” Sect 8 housing subsidies has amazingly enough found it’s way into the pages of the local newspaper... and not a moment too soon

But from the way the issue is described one would think the main reason for all those “No HUD” ads in the “for rent” classified ads is that landlords are worried about the “type” of tenants who receive the subsidies.

But while many landlords may feel this way PNN has found that there is an at least equal if not far greater reticence to rent to HUD Section 8 recipients based not on dealing with the tenant but on having to transact business with the county housing agency that administers the federal program.

First a little background, it seem that despite the fact that all people who receive the HUD “vouchers” are by definition members of one “protected class” or another- family status (having children), disability and age (being senior citizens)- it is somehow ok to discriminate against them all together... or at least it is “legally unsettled”.

After seeing those “No HUD” ads for many years we decided to ask the Kaua`i Legal Aid Society office, which serves many of the indigent who make up the HUD recipients, how this kind of blatant housing discrimination could take place. Surely it must be illegal. And surely it must be their job, if anyone’s to do something about it.

But the laws against discrimination have generally been interpreted by the American corporate-personhood-recognizing courts to say that there must be an individual member of a protected class being specifically discriminated against by a specific individual in a specific case of housing, employment or public accommodation.

And, according to the Legal Aid attorney we spoke to more than 10 years ago, even though the matter is not settled law in this specific case they are too strapped for funds to take on broad, potentially lengthy litigation and they would rather concentrate on helping their qualifying clients in limited personal cases such obtaining restraining orders, divorces, child custody and other minor, personal civil matters.

The reality is that worries over damages and non-payment by HUD tenants is a red herring because HUD guarantees that they will pay for the damages or the tenants’ share of the rent if the tenant does not pay – and then kick the recipient off the program. Of course this leads to an automatic acceptance of damage claims by HUD even if the tenant didn’t cause them.

One would think landlords would love to have HUD tenants – as they do in other places- because the rent, except for a small portion paid by the tenant, comes to them in the form of a monthly check from the county delivered, not on the first of the month but five days before.

The fact is that most landlords we’ve spoken to during the 15 years we’ve been looking into this story and who have rented to tenants with HUD have had it with dealing with County Housing Agency’s bureaucracy .

The Kaua`i County Housing Agency’s HUD Section 8 program has been as corruption- riddled as any in the county and for the last few years has been operating under real and threatened sanctions from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department in Washington D.C., according to testimony before the county council.

Much if it is because they aren’t serving the people who HUD is designed for- primarily those who make up to 80% of the median income and especially those at or below 50%.

While the maximum is 120% there are guidelines saying much higher percentages of clients must be at 80% and an even higher percentage at 50%- levels that the county housing agency seems incapable of achieving after five years of attempts.

In addition the feds found their verification system was severely broken and their paperwork was found to be inconstant, arbitrary and generally useless and incomplete.

Instead of making sure on an individual basis that the exceptionally needy find and keep housing the county agency- run out of the mayor’s office rather than as a chartered department- has become self-absorbed with constantly shifting around the paperwork and requirements in a futile attempt to placate the feds without doing anything concrete.

One bizarre antithetical move in recent years was to change the policy regarding the severely permanently disabled. In the past if someone receiving Social Security disability payments couldn’t find a house within the proscribed time allotment, when they reapplied, they went to the top of the list.

But, according to the agency’s testimony this includes many mentally disabled who they deemed to be “un-housable”. Whereas housing agencies on the mainland see their responsibility as including making sure these chronically homeless find a safe and secure place to live and assisting them in keeping it, here the policy has apparently been to throw them under the bus and let them live on the beach.

Landlords are constantly besieged by the incompetence of the county agency. Whether it’s the seemingly daily change of requirements and resulting paperwork or the landlord’s inability to get coherent answers to their queries, it has become a nightmare to deal with the agency according to many landlords on the island causing them to shun not necessarily the tenant but the agency.

One recent Catch-22 type insanity typifies what’s wrong with Kauai County Housing Agency and of course the county government in general.

When the “Ohana” charter amendment requiring a 2% cap on yearly property tax assessments passed at the polls- and before it was struck down by the Supreme Court of Hawai`i- the county council passed it’s own similar tax scheme for owner-occupants of homes on the island.

But because of the perennial, perpetual housing crisis they also passed Ordinance 833 giving a 6% cap to owners of “long term affordable rentals”.

“Affordable” was based on what was those making 120% of the Kauai Median Household Income- as set forth in the Kaua`i Housing Agency Affordable Rental guidelines- could afford to pay, using 30% of their income for housing as a base.

The council discussion at the time centered around how an “affordable” rental would be defined.. And for that they turned to the County Housing Agency which told them essentially, “oh, well we just happen to have that defined already in the HUD Section 8 affordable housing guidelines- it’s 30% of the income of a person who makes up to 120% of the median income".

So the council put that in the ordinance. But the discussion also centered making sure that it was a “long term” affordable rental.

Although we testified at the time that many if not most rentals on Kaua`i – especially the cheaper ones- were traditionally “month-to-month” and that very few people have one-year leases, the council ignored that testimony and defined a “Long Term Affordable Rental” as “a dwelling subject to a written lease agreement with a term of (1) year or more”.

At the time county housing processed Section 8 “contacts” along with their “voucher program” but has since gone to an all voucher system.

The way it works, according to recipients we spoke to is that there is a one year agreement signed when the tenant first moves in but after that year is over that changes to a month-to-month agreement, supposedly to attract landlords because then they can have the freedom to kick out the tenant without regard to a lease... which is essentially meaningless because even with a lease under Hawai`i law, a 45-day notice is all that’s required, lease or not.

So the Real Property division dutifully created the form for receiving the 6% cap, which reads as follows:

To qualify, you must submit an executed “CURRENT” copy of your (one year) rental agreement with this application.

And county housing rules apparently forbid their clients from signing any agreements with their landlords outside that which is Section 8 approved.

So, as you might have figured out by now, landlords who do rent to Section 8 clients- the very people who the law was designed to help and whose guidelines they used- cannot get the 6% cap on their affordable rental by simply showing that they participate in the program.

Only no one at county housing tells the landlord this until the year is up and they have to file their yearly exemption form.

The can of worms seemingly opened by Punohu have rather been slithering around the County’s Round Building for years. As landlords have found out, any reason for turning down HUD tenants because they might not be ideal, pale in comparison with the headache of having to deal with the county’s bureaucracy and myriad conflicting rules and regulation.

5 comments:

Katy Rose said...

Thanks for the post Andy. What a shame.

The Liberals Guru said...

Mahalo, Andy. I didnt even know about your in deapth reporting on this, until today at the signwaving marking today being the anniversary of the Overthrow.

Several poeple there told me what an excellent job you were doing on this issue. How can I express my thanks?

Of course there are many worms I would like to slay, and as the can opens up more, I shall be ready.

Here are some interesting statistics:
29 million people in the United States have at some time in their lifetimes experienced housing discrimination.

Over 1 and a half million people in this country are, at this moment, homeless.

In the State, it is estimated that we have up to 15,000 homeless, at least 2,000 right here on Kauai.

With an emergency homeless shelter that can accomodate 20, tops.

When I made over 250 phone calls to the poeple who placed the ads, in the beginning, many poeple cited issues with the processes of HUD. But as I learned to draw people out and engage their deeper intentions, almost 78 percent of those I spoke to, and a significant number of people who called my house really just wanted to discriminate.

I love the one lady who called me up and says: I"I just wanted you to know, that I really am a bigot. I just dont like those poeple. I really dont. I dont want them in here. Thats the truth."
Needless to say, I thanked her for her honesty and needed a tylenol and a nap after that phonecall.

In our State, at times, up to 80 percent of those who hold vouchers cannot use them. We would never have known that fact, if Joann Yukimura, who attended the meeting, and helped run it in the second half, had not asked that partricular question.

Like a true lawyer, she drew out the responses from HUD that I, in my private meeting with them, had not been able to.

That definately tells me there is something broken somewhere and we need to fix it.

As Gary Hoosers office is currently drafting the bill and assigning the number to it, I am still waiting for agenda time on the council to adress the county ordinance.

If any of this passes, it may make a few people squirm, but in the long run, I beleive it may make things more efficient, or at least make people take a second look at the process, and really get some vouchers used, for heavens sake.

My real intent, and the core of why I am doing this, is really not about HUD at all.

Its about ending discrimination and bigotry in this country forever, whatever form it comes in.

I am having a peaceful gathering of individuals expressing their first amendment rights to assembly and free speech on Monday, January 19th from 5-6 pm on the grass and sidewalk fronting the Historic county building. I have been told this may be iffy with Gary Heu since someone thinks that im a non profit and may need to fork up liability insurance. However, I am not a non profit. I am an individual expressing my constitutional right to free speech and assembly on the most important Martin Luther King Jr day on our History.
We are doiing this along with millions of other people across the country for National Service Day. The time and dates are on the Obama website, and at USAservice.org.

The time of day was chosen, becausse we want the sun to set on discrimination and racism, and imparticular housing discrimination on this island, and in our state that is causing needless suffering of our people.

I humbly ask your support to get the word out about this event. Children are welcome.
We are askiing people to make homemade signs. Research a quote of MLK and put it on a sign. Think of something clever, or simple. All I ask is no profanity.

MAHALO, Andy.

If people want to reach me, its 332-0341, or coalitionkauai@yahoo.com.

I also have a diary up at OpEd.com, where you can click on the articles under coalitionkauai@yahoo.com, and send a letter to any legislature member about this issue.

Mahalo, Andy!!

Sincerely, Anne Punohu

The Liberals Guru said...

Mahalo, Andy. I didnt even know about your in deapth reporting on this, until today at the signwaving marking today being the anniversary of the Overthrow.

Several poeple there told me what an excellent job you were doing on this issue. How can I express my thanks?

Of course there are many worms I would like to slay, and as the can opens up more, I shall be ready.

Here are some interesting statistics:
29 million people in the United States have at some time in their lifetimes experienced housing discrimination.

Over 1 and a half million people in this country are, at this moment, homeless.

In the State, it is estimated that we have up to 15,000 homeless, at least 2,000 right here on Kauai.

With an emergency homeless shelter that can accomodate 20, tops.

When I made over 250 phone calls to the poeple who placed the ads, in the beginning, many poeple cited issues with the processes of HUD. But as I learned to draw people out and engage their deeper intentions, almost 78 percent of those I spoke to, and a significant number of people who called my house really just wanted to discriminate.

I love the one lady who called me up and says: I"I just wanted you to know, that I really am a bigot. I just dont like those poeple. I really dont. I dont want them in here. Thats the truth."
Needless to say, I thanked her for her honesty and needed a tylenol and a nap after that phonecall.

In our State, at times, up to 80 percent of those who hold vouchers cannot use them. We would never have known that fact, if Joann Yukimura, who attended the meeting, and helped run it in the second half, had not asked that partricular question.

Like a true lawyer, she drew out the responses from HUD that I, in my private meeting with them, had not been able to.

That definately tells me there is something broken somewhere and we need to fix it.

As Gary Hoosers office is currently drafting the bill and assigning the number to it, I am still waiting for agenda time on the council to adress the county ordinance.

If any of this passes, it may make a few people squirm, but in the long run, I beleive it may make things more efficient, or at least make people take a second look at the process, and really get some vouchers used, for heavens sake.

My real intent, and the core of why I am doing this, is really not about HUD at all.

Its about ending discrimination and bigotry in this country forever, whatever form it comes in.

I am having a peaceful gathering of individuals expressing their first amendment rights to assembly and free speech on Monday, January 19th from 5-6 pm on the grass and sidewalk fronting the Historic county building. I have been told this may be iffy with Gary Heu since someone thinks that im a non profit and may need to fork up liability insurance. However, I am not a non profit. I am an individual expressing my constitutional right to free speech and assembly on the most important Martin Luther King Jr day on our History.
We are doiing this along with millions of other people across the country for National Service Day. The time and dates are on the Obama website, and at USAservice.org.

The time of day was chosen, becausse we want the sun to set on discrimination and racism, and imparticular housing discrimination on this island, and in our state that is causing needless suffering of our people.

I humbly ask your support to get the word out about this event. Children are welcome.
We are askiing people to make homemade signs. Research a quote of MLK and put it on a sign. Think of something clever, or simple. All I ask is no profanity.

MAHALO, Andy.

If people want to reach me, its 332-0341, or coalitionkauai@yahoo.com.

I also have a diary up at OpEd.com, where you can click on the articles under coalitionkauai@yahoo.com, and send a letter to any legislature member about this issue.

Mahalo, Andy!!

Sincerely, Anne Punohu

The Liberals Guru said...

Mahalo, Andy. I didnt even know about your in deapth reporting on this, until today at the signwaving marking today being the anniversary of the Overthrow.

Several poeple there told me what an excellent job you were doing on this issue. How can I express my thanks?

Of course there are many worms I would like to slay, and as the can opens up more, I shall be ready.

Here are some interesting statistics:
29 million people in the United States have at some time in their lifetimes experienced housing discrimination.

Over 1 and a half million people in this country are, at this moment, homeless.

In the State, it is estimated that we have up to 15,000 homeless, at least 2,000 right here on Kauai.

With an emergency homeless shelter that can accomodate 20, tops.

When I made over 250 phone calls to the poeple who placed the ads, in the beginning, many poeple cited issues with the processes of HUD. But as I learned to draw people out and engage their deeper intentions, almost 78 percent of those I spoke to, and a significant number of people who called my house really just wanted to discriminate.

I love the one lady who called me up and says: I"I just wanted you to know, that I really am a bigot. I just dont like those poeple. I really dont. I dont want them in here. Thats the truth."
Needless to say, I thanked her for her honesty and needed a tylenol and a nap after that phonecall.

In our State, at times, up to 80 percent of those who hold vouchers cannot use them. We would never have known that fact, if Joann Yukimura, who attended the meeting, and helped run it in the second half, had not asked that partricular question.

Like a true lawyer, she drew out the responses from HUD that I, in my private meeting with them, had not been able to.

That definately tells me there is something broken somewhere and we need to fix it.

As Gary Hoosers office is currently drafting the bill and assigning the number to it, I am still waiting for agenda time on the council to adress the county ordinance.

If any of this passes, it may make a few people squirm, but in the long run, I beleive it may make things more efficient, or at least make people take a second look at the process, and really get some vouchers used, for heavens sake.

My real intent, and the core of why I am doing this, is really not about HUD at all.

Its about ending discrimination and bigotry in this country forever, whatever form it comes in.

I am having a peaceful gathering of individuals expressing their first amendment rights to assembly and free speech on Monday, January 19th from 5-6 pm on the grass and sidewalk fronting the Historic county building. I have been told this may be iffy with Gary Heu since someone thinks that im a non profit and may need to fork up liability insurance. However, I am not a non profit. I am an individual expressing my constitutional right to free speech and assembly on the most important Martin Luther King Jr day on our History.
We are doiing this along with millions of other people across the country for National Service Day. The time and dates are on the Obama website, and at USAservice.org.

The time of day was chosen, becausse we want the sun to set on discrimination and racism, and imparticular housing discrimination on this island, and in our state that is causing needless suffering of our people.

I humbly ask your support to get the word out about this event. Children are welcome.
We are askiing people to make homemade signs. Research a quote of MLK and put it on a sign. Think of something clever, or simple. All I ask is no profanity.

MAHALO, Andy.

If people want to reach me, its 332-0341, or coalitionkauai@yahoo.com.

I also have a diary up at OpEd.com, where you can click on the articles under coalitionkauai@yahoo.com, and send a letter to any legislature member about this issue.

Mahalo, Andy!!

Sincerely, Anne Punohu

The Liberals Guru said...

I am very sorry, I clicked the back button a bunch of times, so the letter kept posting.
Im not so good at this yet.
Anyways, can u please give me a call, Andy?
You are doing greqat service to the community.
Please help me spread the word about tomorrows event, as somehow the newspaper has not been printing anything about it.
Mahalo
Anne Punohu
332-0341