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Hawaiian Natives Move to Las Vegas in Search of More Affordable Housing

By TheNevadaGlobeStaff, January 23, 2023 6:34 am

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (702 Times, NV Globe) – Kona Purdy has always preferred to reside in Hawaii. He wants his children to grow up like he did as Native Hawaiians: firmly anchored in their culture and fed by the mountains and ocean.

However, raising a family in Hawaii required cramming nine people into a four-bedroom house in Waipahu, a suburb of Honolulu, that was rented with extended relatives. The Purdys acknowledged that it was uncomfortable but accepted it as the price of living in their native country.

“We stuffed ourselves into one room,” Purdy said of his four-member family’s living arrangements.

Their portion of the rent each month was $2,300. The Purdys discovered they could no longer afford to reside in Hawaii when the rent jumped.

“I was so busy working, trying to make ends meet,” he said. “We never took our kids out to the beach. We didn’t go hiking.”

Hawaii inhabitants are frequently priced out of the Aloha State, where the typical price for a single-family house during the epidemic exceeded $900,000. The median price is over $1 million in Oahu, the island with the most residents and where Honolulu is located.

Many locals have low-paying service occupations, and Native Hawaiians are particularly affected by the financial hardship. According to a state report released last year, a single worker in Hawaii would need to make $18 per hour to cover housing and other essentials, but the state’s current minimum wage is only $12.

Many have traveled to Las Vegas, including the Purdys.

U.S. population projections for 2021 state that According to the Census Bureau, the largest increases in Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander populations were seen in Sacramento County, California, and Clark County, Nevada, which contains Las Vegas. Honolulu had the greatest loss of Native Hawaiian residents.

Hawaii residents pay the most in any state on rent, on average 42.06% of their income, according to a Forbes Home research. California comes in second place, although at a far lower percentage of income (28.47%) going toward rent.

According to estimates from the American Community Survey, there were around 221,600 Native Hawaiians living on the U.S. mainland and about 296,400 of them lived on Hawaii in 2011. Ten years later, those figures changed. About 370,000 Native Hawaiians lived in neighboring states in addition to 309,800 in Hawaii in 2021.

“There’s no Hawaii without Hawaiians,” said Honolulu City Council Chair Tommy Waters, who is Native Hawaiian. His five siblings have all moved to the continental U.S. “That’s just incredibly sad to me, that Hawaiians cannot afford to live in Hawaii.”

The Purdys were interested in Las Vegas since it is a well-liked vacation spot for people from Hawaii, which meant their family would probably visit frequently. Additionally, living expenses are much reduced.

They uprooted their family in 2017 and relocated to Henderson, a Las Vegas suburb in Clark County, where they could pay $1,000 a month for a two-bedroom condo.

They felt like “fish out of sea” so far from Hawaii’s coastline, Purdy said.

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

However, Hawaiian culture was all around them despite the fact that they were over 3,000 miles from home. The Las Vegas area is full of Hawaiian-themed eateries and cultural activities celebrating Hawaiian pride thanks to many other immigrants.

Even a real estate agency, maintained primarily by former Hawaii residents, assists families in moving away from the islands.

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

According to Native Hawaiian realtor Terry Nacion, a three-bedroom property in a Las Vegas neighborhood selling for $300,000 would cost $1.2 million in Honolulu. Because she believed owning a property was out of reach, she moved from Hawaii to Las Vegas in 2003. “Back home, you either had to work four jobs or have your home passed down to you,” she remarked.

About 20 more family, including Purdy’s mother, uncle, and sister Lindsay Villarimo, moved a few months after they did.

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

She referred to Las Vegas’ accessibility as “liberating.” Because there was no state income tax and the cost of rent and groceries was lower, she could stretch her money further.

“We were just living it up in the dollar store,” she said. In Hawaii, that type of store doesn’t exist.

According to author Dennis M. Ogawa, the downtown hotel that debuted in 1975 was the only reason for Hawaii residents’ attraction to Las Vegas.

Californians were the hotel’s first target market, but he had trouble generating business. It redirected its attention to tourists from the islands after being reminded of how popular gaming is in Hawaii. The hotel adopted “Aloha Spoken Here” as its tagline.

To be near her daughter, who had relocated to Seattle in search of better employment possibilities, Doreen Hall Vann made the decision to move to Las Vegas in 2019.

She bragged on Facebook about how much less expensive everything was, from food to rent. But when she began to live far from home, she began to worry about maintaining a connection to her culture, particularly because she had to remove her son, who was 6 at the time, from his Hawaiian language immersion school.

“It’s just 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 move off island … we are disconnected because we’re not on our land anymore.”

She discovered she had more time and felt less stressed in her new house, nevertheless.

“I was so busy back home trying to make a living,” she said. “When I moved to Vegas, it really put a pause in my life and I could see things a lot clearer.”

That made it possible for her to join the Las Vegas Hawaiian Civic Club, where she is currently a Hawaiian teacher.

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

The Purdy family took part in “hoolaulea,” cultural events that were more extensive than those back in Hawaii, and Purdy’s kids started learning the hula.

But the Purdys returned to their house in August 2021, exactly four years after leaving Hawaii.

Purdy said that his wife wanted to care for her mother, who had started to exhibit dementia-like symptoms. Their daughter was also admitted to the extremely selective and reasonably priced Kamehameha Schools, which offers applicants of Hawaiian origin priority in the admissions process.

To share a five-bedroom house with their extended family, the family relocated to Kapolei, a Honolulu neighborhood close to where they had previously resided. The Purdy family rents out two of the bedrooms now that they have three kids.

Purdy is attempting to carve out time to enroll his children in hula lessons. The family has only visited the beach once since returning.

“It’s a grind, 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.”

Credits: FOX 5 VEGAS

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