Safe, affordable housing provides the foundation for a stable, successful life. Many families in Hawai‘i struggle with housing costs, which are among the highest in the nation. Some of Hawai‘i’s households with the greatest financial struggles are able to access subsidized housing that caps shelter costs—both rents and utilities—at 30 percent of the household’s income. These subsidized shelter costs provide a platform from which families can climb out of poverty or kupuna and others with fixed incomes can achieve the long-term stability necessary to avoid homelessness.
Across the state, people have felt that platform slowly crumble from beneath them as the owners and operators of some subsidized housing projects have failed to adjust utility subsidies to keep up with inflation. In some cases, the owners failed to make the legally-required adjustments for decades, affecting thousands of Hawai‘i’s families, some of whom were overcharged by over a hundred dollars a month for years.
LEJ’s first case, brought in 2004, was aimed at addressing this problem, stopping the overcharging of low-income families, and ensuring that the subsidized housing program serves its purpose as a platform for economic stability.
LEJ’s first client stepped forward to participate in a case that benefited thousands of public housing residents across the state, stopping rent overcharges that amounted to millions of dollars.
LEJ has litigated six such cases, securing over three million dollars in reimbursements for low-income families, and obtaining rent adjustments that amount to well over a million dollars each year going forward.
Tenants in public housing pay 30% of their income for rent. This rate ensures that tenants’ rent is within their ability to pay. Tenants need the remaining portions of their rent to cover other necessities, such as healthcare, food, and taxes.
Part of the public housing subsidy, under the federal Public Housing Act, includes a fair allowance for utilities. In 2003, LEJ lawyers discovered that the Hawai‘i Public Housing Authority and certain housing projects were not providing a fair allowance to their tenants, forcing to choose between paying for utilities or other necessities. These policies caused many public housing tenants to pay more than their legal share for housing and, in some cases, caused loss of housing.
LEJ has made it a priorty to ensure that public housing tenants received their fair share in utility allowances. In furtherance of that goal, LEJ filed three class action law suits against the local public housing authority seeking injunctive relief and re-payment of utility allowances to tenants.
- Shea v. Kahuku Housing Foundation, Civil No. 09-1-2076 (Haw. Cir. Ct.)- LEJ represents tenants at Kahuku Elderly housing project in a class action to compensate tenants for unfair utility allowances. The case was filed on September 8, 2009.
- Cruz v. Jack Hall Hawaii Housing Corpoation, Civil No. 09-1-2077 (Haw. Cir. Ct). LEJ represents tenants at Jack Hall Waipahu housing project in a class action to compensate tenants for unfair utility allowances. The case was filed on September 8, 2009.
- Blake v. Nishimura, Civil No. 08-00281 (D. Haw). LEJ represents tenants at Westlake Apartments, a City and County of Honolulu project, in a class action to compensate tenants for unfair utility allowances. This case resulted in increased utility allowances and significant awards of back rent.
- Waters v. Housing and Community Development, Civil No. 05-1-0815 (Haw. Cir. Ct.). LEJ represented a class tenants at Wilikina Apartments, a State of Hawaii project, in a class action to compensate tenants for unfair utility allowances. The case resulted in significant awards of back rent.
- Smith v. Housing and Community Development, Civil No. 04-1-69K.(Haw. Cir. Ct.). LEJ represented a statewide class of public housing tenants in Hawaii Circuit Court against the Hawaii Housing and Community Development Corporation, seeking classwide damages to compensate tenants for unfair utility allowances. The State ultimately settled the case, paying tenants $2.3 million.
- Smith v. Aveiro, Civil No. 04-00309 (D. Haw). LEJ represented tenants at Ke Hale Kahaluu public housing in U.S. District Court seeking classwide injunctive relief for failures by the Hawaii Housing and Community Development Corporation to provide fair utility allowances. The case was dismissed on mootness grounds in 2006, as the underlying issues had been resolved.
- Amone v. Aveiro, Civil No. 04-00508 (D. Haw). LEJ represented a statewide class of public housing tenants in U.S. District Court seeking injunctive relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Public Housing Act seeking fair utility allowances for disabled persons whose energy usage is higher than average. The Federal Court issued a permanent injunction, requiring the State to provide a fair subsidy to these individuals.