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Monique Nu’uanu shares her home in Makakilo with four of her children ages 7 to 18, an adult cousin Travien, 26, and a hanai sister Alenna, 27.
“It’s hard, everybody has different pet peeves and you just have to learn how to make it work,” said Nu’uanu, 39.
A normal day involves preparing breakfast, herding the young children to school and carpooling with the other three adults to work in town, the goal is to be on the road by 7:30 a.m. — but it doesn’t always work out that way.
“I think living with family has its pros and cons,” Nu’uanu said. “The pro is you’ll always have someone to help you, whether it’s financially or with the kids, you have that support.”
The Nu’uanus are one of over 34,000 families in Hawaii and 60 million people nationwide who live in a multigenerational household, where two or more adult generations are represented in the same home.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, multigenerational households are most prevalent in areas with high costs of living, large immigrant populations and housing shortages.
Places like Hawaii.
At 8 percent of households, the Aloha State has the highest proportion of multigenerational homes in the country, with Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (18 percent), and Asians (13 percent) being the two ethnic groups with the largest proportions of multigenerational households.
Multigenerational housing “is a very local way of living because the word ohana is really about extended family, not the nuclear family,” said Ikaika Hussey, a member of the Kalihi Neighborhood Board.
Marshall Hickox, chief administrative officer of Homeworks Construction, an Oahu-based construction company, said that 50 percent to 60 percent of its projects involve multigenerational planning.
“Over 10 years this would be 250-plus projects,” Hickox said.
According to Bonnie Oda, marketing director for Graham Builders, multigenerational planning includes ensuring that homes are “flexible in use,” meaning that all parts of the home can be made to accommodate family members in different life stages.
“Many people with multigenerational homes will have a larger house,” Oda said. “We always try to make sure that the ground floor prioritizes those who need access.”
Adults caring for elderly parents, immigrant families and millennials — who often still live with their parents and tend to marry later in life — are all likely candidates for this lifestyle.
But for many Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Asians, cultural tradition plays a huge role in a family’s decision to live together.
“Like a lot of Asian families, Filipino families value the group,” said Patricio Abinales, professor of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “When you moved to the cities (in the Philippines), it was easier for you to start looking for a job when you have a safety net, and your safety net was your family.”
Eve Epitome, 34, said that growing up in a Kalihi home with her parents and 12 other members of an extended family taught her a lot about teamwork.
“Growing up it was always a very full house, there was always someone to talk to,” Epitome said. “Someone would always be there to make sure we stayed out of trouble.”
Epitome says that the expanded family of 15 functioned like a well-oiled machine; adults pitched in for the mortgage, aunties did the laundry and cooking, and the cousins were responsible for administering medication to the older family members.
“Someone would always be there to make sure we stayed out of trouble.” — Eve Epitome, describing growing up with 14 relatives in the house
Although multigenerational households can be found in all parts of the Aloha State, experts say that areas of Oahu with higher immigrant populations like Waipahu, Kalihi and Palolo Valley are apt to have higher concentrations.
Research conducted by UH Manoa’s Center on the Family found that those areas have the highest percentages of recent immigrants in the state, with Kalihi coming in first — 16 percent of the neighborhood’s population consists of recent immigrants.
“Some (Native Hawaiian) families still practice hanai, where parents leave their eldest child or one of their children to be raised exclusively by the grandparents,” said Malia Akutagawa, a professor at UH Manoa’s Hawaiian Studies Department.
“It doesn’t happen as often as before, but still occurs through multigenerational living or regular babysitting by grandparents,” Akutagawa said.
Hawaii’s large percentage of multigenerational households can’t be linked entirely to cultural ties.
“Part of it has to do with culture, but other parts of it have to do with being priced out of paradise,” Akutagawa said. “It’s hard for locals to find long-term rentals.”
Hawaii has the highest cost of living in the country and a significant lack of affordable housing.
A city audit released in September found that Oahu has a housing shortage of 24,000 units, with 75 percent of those in need of housing earning less than 80 percent of the area median income.
A report done by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University found that about 20 percent of households and only 9 percent of renters in urban Honolulu, the area between Kalihi and Diamond Head, can afford a median-priced home in the metro area. The nationwide average is 59 percent.
“To ensure that they have a home, they share.” — State Rep. Romy Cachola
The Nu’uanu family pools four full-time salaries to pay for the mortgage payments, utilities and groceries for the extended family of seven.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford this on my own; no one in our house would,” Nu’uanu said.
Rep. Romy Cachola, whose district includes Kalihi Kai, believes that many multigenerational homes in Hawaii are borne of necessity.
“To ensure that they have a home, they share,” he said.
Epitome, who now lives only with her elderly mother and uncle, expressed frustration that despite her aunts and uncles working well into their 80s, they moved back to the Philippines upon retirement because they felt retiring in Hawaii was too expensive.
“If it wasn’t for that house, if it wasn’t for people coming together — homelessness becomes a reality in Hawaii — like we could have been out in the streets,” Epitome said.
A census report last year found that more Hawaii residents are moving off island each year, outnumbering the mainlanders moving to the state.
“The ohana unit also functions as an economic unit, so when people leave to the mainland that hurts the ohana,” Hussey said.
“If enough people in the ohana leave — then the remaining family members can no longer afford to live here themselves and end up also relocating to the mainland.”