Hawai‘i Would Not be the Same Without Hawaiians


Keliʻi Akina, Ph.D., Trustee, At-Large

Hawaiʻi would not be the same without Hawaiians. However, more Hawaiians are moving out of Hawaiʻi every year.

According to the most recent U.S. Census, the Native Hawaiian population is growing faster in Nevada and California, while Honolulu is experiencing the largest decline of Native Hawaiian residents. There are actually more Native Hawaiians living in other states than there are living in Hawaiʻi. Just over 300,000 native Hawaiians are living throughout the islands while about 370,000 are living in other states.

What is the source of the problem? It is becoming clear every year that bad government policies are contributing to the growing exodus of Hawaiians from Hawaiʻi.

Kona Purdy is a Hawaiian father who recently made the difficult decision to move his family of nine out of Hawaiʻi. He resettled his family in Las Vegas. The Associated Press published his story. Purdy said that “it’s real ʻeha because you do get disconnected from the land, which we’re so connected to, being born and raised here.” Purdy’s sister, Lindsay Villarimo said, “it is exhausting trying to make ends meet. It’s heartbreaking that’s the choice we make…I think we just got priced out of home.” Purdy’s family story is just one of thousands of stories of Hawaiians moving away from the islands to pursue more affordable living.

Hawaiians cannot afford to live in Hawaiʻi. According to the Associated Press, a real estate brokerage has even been established to help Hawaiian families relocate from the islands to other states.

To put it in perspective, based on real estate values via Zillow, a single-family home in the Las Vegas area costs about $420,000. In Honolulu, a similar home costs over $1 million. According to the Honolulu Board of Realtors, the median price of a single-family home on Oʻahu is over $1.1 million. According to the Redfin real estate company, the median price of a single-family home in the State of Hawaiʻi is around $825,000.

It is widely recognized that Hawaiʻi has the highest cost of living in the United States. At the same time, workers on the islands earn some of the lowest wages in the country. In addition, the lack of investment in a local economy that is not dependent on the tourist sector prevents the generation of new wealth for Hawaiian workers.

Simply put, bad public policy is making it harder for Hawaiians to live in Hawaiʻi.

For example, Hawaiʻi has the second highest income tax rate in the United States. Hawaiʻi also imposes a regressive GE tax on food and medical services, something which many states have discontinued. Overregulation by the government related to land use, zoning, and housing policies makes it very difficult to allow new housing developments which include affordable housing units. These ineffective housing regulations restrict the opportunity to increase the supply of affordable housing that is needed to meet the rising demand.

And this is not just a problem for Hawaiians. All residents of the Aloha State are affected by government policies that drive up the cost of living.

All of us in Hawaiʻi must hana kākou (work together) to address the issue. We must work together to support policies that promote affordable housing development, reduce taxes, and develop an economy that generates new opportunities for businesses.

At the same time, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA) has the obligation under the state constitution to better the conditions of Hawaiians. This includes helping Hawaiians afford to live and remain in Hawaiʻi.

ʻAʻohe Hawaiʻi me ka poʻe Hawaiʻi ʻole. Hawaiʻi would not be the same without Hawaiians.