Fire Sprinkler Retrofit Bill Before Honolulu City Council Committee

Aug 21, 2017

Marco Polo fire, July 14.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

A Honolulu City Council Committee will conduct a public hearing tomorrow on a bill to retrofit older high rises with fire sprinkler systems.  As HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports, opponents say it targets seniors who live in older buildings.

Bill 69 would require residential high-rises built before 1975 on O’ahu to be retrofitted with automatic fire sprinklers.   But retiree, Lorraine Luoi, told members of the Honolulu City Council earlier this month, that the estimate a few years ago to retrofit the 30 year-old condominium building she lives in would cost 14-thousand dollars per owner.  She says that’s in addition to maintenance fees, property taxes, and other building assessments.

“We just went through a retrofit for plumbing.  We have a 500 square foot unit.  We were assessed $27-thousand.  And I spoke with a friend that is in another condo.  They have problems with their windows.  It is going to be like a hundred thousand a person.  So you have to always have to balance the benefit with the cost.”

Aging pipes need to be replaced in many high-rise condominiums built more than 30 years ago, before automatic fire sprinklers were required by law.
Credit Wayne Yoshioka

Loui says those on fixed incomes cannot afford to pay for sprinkler retrofits.  That sentiment was echoed by Councilmember Kimberly Pine who represents West O’ahu.

“In 2009, my district had the most foreclosures.  And a lot of the foreclosures came because people couldn’t pay their maintenance fees.  It was an extra $50 a month, they just kept going up and they got to a point that they just lost all home and they gave up their house.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell, whose administration co-wrote bill 69, says Hawai’i taxpayers should not have to pay for fire sprinkler retrofits.  But he noted, financial assistance is available for low-to moderate income condominium owners.

“Let’s say you are a senior on a fixed income.  Condominium owners earning 80 percent or below in terms of the median income could qualify for and use the City’s Rehabilitation Loan Program that’s in existence right now.  And when you get a loan, it’s zero percent interest.  You have to pay the loan back over time but you don’t pay any interest whatsoever.”

Eighty percent of the area median income is 58- thousand dollars annually for a single person.  The Marco Polo fire on July 14th killed 3 people, injured more than a dozen and caused an estimated 100 million dollars in damage.   The Mayor says action needs to be taken now, while the devastating fire is fresh in many peoples’ memories.

“I hope this bill continues to move and not let time slip.  Because as the memory fades, it’s easier to let it slide than to make a hard decision until the next fire occurs.”

Bill 69 will be heard by the Honolulu City Council’s Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, Tuesday afternoon.   Wayne Yoshioka, HPR News.

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