Native Hawaiians flock to Las Vegas for affordable living

KAPOLEI, Hawaii (AP) — Kona Purdy never wanted to live anywhere but Hawaii. As a native Hawaiian, he wanted his children to grow up like him: rooted in their culture, and nurtured by the mountains and the ocean.

But raising a family in Hawaii meant squeezing nine people into a four-bedroom house — rented with extended family — in Waipahu, a suburb of Honolulu. It felt cramped, but the Purdys accepted that was the price they had to pay to survive in their homeland.

“We crammed into one room,” Purdy said of the living conditions of her family of four.

Their share of the monthly rent was $2,300. When the rent went up, the Purdys realized they could no longer afford to live in Hawaii.

“I was so busy working, trying to make ends meet,” he said. “We never took our children to the beach. We did not hike. »

It is increasingly common for Hawaii residents to be evicted from the state of Aloha, where the median price of a single-family home has exceeded $900,000 during the pandemic. On Oahu, the most populated island and where Honolulu is located, the median price is over $1 million.

Many residents work in low-wage service jobs, and the financial strain is especially severe for Hawaii’s native people. A state analysis released last year showed that a single person working 40 hours a week would need to earn $18 an hour to pay for housing and other necessities in Hawaii, but the Hawaii minimum wage State is currently $12 per hour.

Many, like the Purdys, headed to Las Vegas.

According to 2021 population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, the fastest growth of native populations in Hawaii and other Pacific Islands has occurred in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, and the county of Sacramento, California. The largest drop in Native Hawaiian residents occurred in Honolulu.

Hawaii residents spend an average of 42.06% of their income on rent, which is the highest of any state, according to an analysis by Forbes Home. California ranks second, but with a much lower proportion of income going to rent: 28.47%.

Estimates from the American Community Survey showed that in 2011 there were about 296,400 Native Hawaiians in Hawaii and about 221,600 in the mainland United States. A decade later, those numbers changed. In 2021, there were approximately 309,800 Native Hawaiians in Hawaii and approximately 370,000 in other states.

“There is no Hawaii without Hawaiians,” said Honolulu City Council Speaker Tommy Waters, who is of Hawaiian descent. His five siblings all moved to the continental United States. “It’s incredibly sad to me that Hawaiians can’t afford to live in Hawaii.”

Las Vegas was desirable for the Purdys because it is a popular vacation destination for Hawaii residents, which meant the family would travel there often. In addition, the cost of living is significantly lower.

So in 2017, they uprooted their family and moved to Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb in Clark County, where they could afford to rent a two-bedroom apartment for $1,000 a month.

Away from the shores of Hawaii, they felt like “fish out of water,” Purdy said.

“So it’s true ‘eha,'” Purdy said, using the Hawaiian word for painful, “because you’re disconnected from the land, which we’re so connected to, being born and raised here.”

But even though they were nearly 3,000 miles from home, Hawaiian culture was all around them. Thanks to many other transplants, the Las Vegas area is full of Hawaiian-flavoured restaurants and cultural events that express Hawaiian pride.

There’s even a real estate agency that helps families move islands – run mostly by former Hawaii residents.

“You go to any store in any part of the Valley and you’ll find someone from Hawaii working there or shopping there,” Purdy said.

A $300,000 three-bedroom home in a Las Vegas suburb would cost Honolulu $1.2 million, said Terry Nacion, a Hawaiian real estate agent. She moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas in 2003 because home ownership seemed out of reach. “When you got home, you either had to bequeath your house or work four jobs,” she said.

A few months after their move, about 20 other relatives, including Purdy’s mother, uncle and sister, Lindsay Villarimo, followed them.

“As time went on, it got exhausting trying to make ends meet,” Villarimo said. “It’s heartbreaking, it’s the choice we make. The majority of us, I think, just got paid out of home. When Villarimo and her family decided to move to Nevada, her husband Henry had never even left Hawaii.

Las Vegas’ affordability was “liberating,” she said. With cheaper rent and groceries and no income tax, she could stretch her salary further.

“We were just living in the dollar store,” she said. In Hawaii, this type of store does not exist.

For Hawaii residents, the allure of Las Vegas can be traced to a downtown hotel that opened in 1975, said author Dennis M. Ogawa.

The hotel originally catered to Californians, but it struggled to do business. Recalling the popularity of the game in Hawaii, attention has turned to visitors to the islands. “Aloha Spoken Here” has become the hotel’s slogan.

In 2019, Doreen Hall Vann decided to move to Las Vegas to be closer to her daughter, who had moved to Seattle for more job opportunities.

On Facebook, she said how much cheaper everything was, from bread to rent. But she began to worry about staying connected to her culture while living away from home, including because she uprooted her then 6-year-old son from his Hawaiian language immersion school.

“It’s like when you give birth and you cut your umbilical cord. For us Native Hawaiians, our piko is the source of life,” Hall Vann said, using the Hawaiian word for navel or umbilical cord. “When we leave the island… we are disconnected because we are no longer on our land. ”

But in her new home, she found she had more time and less stress.

“I was so busy at home trying to make a living,” she said. “When I moved to Vegas, it really put a break on my life and I was able to see things a lot more clearly.”

This got her involved with the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club, where she now teaches Hawaiian.

“We have our people, our home, our community is thriving,” she said.

In Las Vegas, Purdy’s children began learning the hula, and the family enjoyed “hoolaulea,” cultural festivals that were bigger than the celebrations in Hawaii.

But in August 2021, exactly four years after leaving Hawaii, the Purdys returned home.

Purdy said his wife wanted to take care of her mother, who started showing signs of dementia. Their daughter was also accepted into Kamehameha Schools, a highly selective and relatively affordable private school system that gives preference to students of Hawaiian ancestry.

The family moved to Kapolei, a Honolulu suburb not far from where they once lived, to share a five-bedroom home with their extended family. Now that the Purdys have three children, they rent out two of the bedrooms.

Purdy tries to find time to take her kids to hula lessons. Since returning, the family has only been to the beach once.

“It’s a chore, it’s hard, it’s really expensive,” he said. “But I also feel like we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be right now.”

Leave a Reply