Barry Higa works seven days a week at two jobs. But rent in Honolulu is so expensive that he still lives at home in Aiea with his parents, his sister and his nephew.

Higa, who is in his mid-30s, knows people in their 40s who are still living at home because they can’t afford to move out. Several of his friends recently moved to Las Vegas because the cost of living there is so much cheaper.

Things aren’t looking up on Oahu. A national study found that being able to afford rent is getting easier nationwide, but Honolulu is an exception.

The analysis by researchers from the website Apartment List found that the share of renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent decreased nationally but has been growing in Honolulu.

The term “cost-burdened” refers to renters who spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent. You are severely cost-burdened if you spend more than half of your income on rent. Screenshot

The researchers pointed out however that incomes weren’t rising for renters — rather, more rich people are renting homes instead of owning.

In Hawaii, Oahu is the most expensive island by far. Nearly 60 percent of renters spend more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent, and 30 percent of renters spend more than half of their income on rent.

The Aloha State has the second-highest rate of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Only Florida is worse.

On Kauai, Maui and the Big Island, about half of renters use more than 30 percent of their incomes to afford housing. That’s in line with the national average.

A glance at the Apartment List website shows it’s getting harder for renters to live in Honolulu. Screenshot

Incomes haven’t been rising fast enough to keep up with rents. The study found that “from 2005-2016, rents in Honolulu increased by 30.3 percent, while renter incomes increased by 15.1 percent.”

The median price of a two-bedroom unit in Honolulu is $2,100, according to Apartment List.

Local real estate researcher Ricky Cassiday isn’t surprised to hear that nearly 60 percent of Honolulu renters are spending more than 30 percent of their incomes on rent.

“The incomes aren’t growing as fast as rental or housing prices are,” he said.

Another issue is the limited number of rental units. “There’s not a lot of rental supply and that’s what’s driving unaffordability,” Cassiday said.

Higa works in retail on Makaloa Street in Ala Moana. The building where he works is scheduled to be torn down to make way for a luxury hotel and he’s not sure what will happen to his job when that happens.

“Nobody can afford to live here,” he said.

He thinks about moving away from Hawaii but he doesn’t want to leave his family. The influx of new condos and hotels makes him think local people like him are getting squeezed out.

“We don’t want that over here. We just want it to be Hawaii.”

Click here to read articles from Civil Beat’s series about the high cost of paradise, “Living Hawaii.”

About the Author