If you’re thinking about moving to Hawaii, you’re not alone. But transplants shouldn’t necessarily expect a warm welcome. Long simmering tensions about who gets to live on the islands have flared over the past couple of years into a full-blown crisis.
When the pandemic began in 2020, Hawaii’s economy reeled. Tourism crashed, and joblessness skyrocketed. Soon after, remote work combined with the state’s low infection rate beckoned people with means from across the country to move to the islands, while sprawling estates owned by the likes of Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, and Mark Zuckerberg continued to metastasize. From the end of 2019 to the start of 2022, the median cost of a single-family home on O‘ahu, where most of the population lives, ballooned from $789,000 to $1.15 million. A quarter of all homes sold in 2021 were purchased by out-of-state buyers, who routinely bid well above the listing price, often without seeing the property in person. Homes are on the market for an average of just 10 days.
But the local housing crisis is nothing new; in many ways, the pandemic merely accelerated trends that started when Hawaii became a state in 1959. The cost of real estate has steadily increased since then, fueled by tropical allure and increased accessibility, with only brief and mild downturns. During the Great Recession, Hawaii’s prices dropped less and rebounded faster than those in most of the rest of the country, the whole thing just a hiccup in the state’s ever-hot housing market…Like