Affordable Living In Hawaii? Not For Many Folks - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Rosanna Prieto

Rosanna "Rose" Prieto is an Affordable Hawaii for All fellow, part of the Housing Affordability Coalition and supported by its Steering Committee Hawaiian Community Assets, Hawaii Appleseed, and the Hawaii Alliance for Community Based Economic Development.

$38.76 an hour. That’s how much we need to be paid every hour to afford living in Honolulu according to the Out of Reach Report released a few weeks ago.

I didn’t ask for this outrageous burden when I was born here and didn’t expect this exorbitant cost of living to reduce the quality of my child’s life. I’m hard working, smart, and contribute to the well being of society.

I graduated from college, reconnected with cultural values, family and worked hard to resolve the traumas of childhood and adolescent sexual violence.

My mother is Hawaiian, she’s a retired social worker, runs an educational nonprofit, and an annual community cultural event. My father is a retired Mexican-American U.S. Army veteran from the Special Forces.

We sacrificed family connections, cultural values, our mental health and well being, and our physical safety for decades in the military. We’re still living with the mental, emotional, and relational consequences of “serving our country.”

Was the financial gain worth the sacrifice? Depends on the day.

Kapolei Aerial High School Development housing homes2
Housing in Hawaii, as seen here in developments at Ewa Gentry, is prohibitive for many in the islands. Coupled with low wages, it only makes it harder for many to scrape by. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

We also took care of my Tutu until she passed at 84 years old and I now stress about the future expectation of becoming a caregiver for my parents as they age. How can I possibly afford to be a caregiver for my kupuna and my children at the same time? Especially when I would need to work 153 hours a week to afford a 2-bedroom rental home at $10.10 minimum wage.

There are only 168 hours in a week to begin with. When would I be able to mother my children or care for my elders if I have to work 3.8 full-time jobs at minimum wage to afford rent in a 2-bedroom without paying more than 30% of my income on rent and utilities?

That leaves me 15 hours for sleeping, food shopping, cooking, cleaning, and eating. Am I allowed to have rest, relaxation, or life and relationships outside of care-giving?

Diverse Lives Not Considered

This outrageous number doesn’t even factor in the cost of child care (for one child), which often costs the same amount of one month’s worth of rent or mortgage. It also doesn’t account for the diverse lives across Hawaii.

For example, years ago while actually working three jobs I was a maid for a private company. We were paid $8 for every house we cleaned and after doing the math one day I realized we were being paid about $4 an hour before taxes.

That business model is possible right here in Honolulu because those women were immigrants, barely spoke English, and we needed the money. Years later, after “moving up” to $13 an hour providing substance abuse counseling for adjudicated youth, I heard stories of parents in jail or on the streets struggling with addiction. They themselves had been sex trafficked, attempted suicide, had been homeless and abused, or addicted to meth before finishing middle school.

Sure, I could have gone to penthouse parties and had sex with men for money. But how would I stay sober through those experiences after all the work I’d done to overcome my addictions? I could have responded to ads that let strangers take pictures of my feet for hundreds of dollars. But would I come home to my family alive and well?

I could have worked at a hostess bar, a strip club, gambling house, or massage parlor to pay bills. I’ve had lots of friends and relatives involved in “the life” over the years and they certainly made more money than I ever did.

The reality is, I still can’t make ends meet.

It’s not like I wasn’t offered gigs, recruited, or almost abducted. Instead I cleaned random houses, kitchens, and businesses for fast cash, with no health insurance, and while working multiple jobs because I couldn’t make ends meet.

The reality is, I still can’t make ends meet. I’ve moved back in with family, went back to school, continue to work against the reality of trauma-induced mental health challenges, and am now looking at an unprecedented COVID-19 economy.

But I’m just one person with one story, and despite my past I consider myself one of the lucky ones. If any part of this story sounds like an alternate universe to you, then you’re definitely one of the lucky ones.

While this report paints a shocking picture of reality, I’m still fighting to stay above said reality and I’m concerned about those among us actually stuck living that reality at this moment or worse.

As ridiculous as $38.76 an hour is, what’s more painful is the social inequity it represents and the terrible ways in which decent people’s daily lives are actually being affected by it.

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About the Author

Rosanna Prieto

Rosanna "Rose" Prieto is an Affordable Hawaii for All fellow, part of the Housing Affordability Coalition and supported by its Steering Committee Hawaiian Community Assets, Hawaii Appleseed, and the Hawaii Alliance for Community Based Economic Development.


Latest Comments (0)

I was born and raised in Honolulu. I'm a somewhat proud graduate of McKinley High School 1974. At the time, I never dreamed of ever moving away. A few of my classmates either went away to college; some talked about a "better life" on the mainland.Since 1978, I've moved back and forth 3 times; the last time in 1986 after a failed business attempt in the Islands where I moved away for good. The first few years there was bitterness but I moved on. Learned to accept my losses but embraced my success. I look back and it was the best decision with no regrets.My hometown is a distant memory. Even if we get through this pandemic and rebuild, the future of a capitalistic society is AI. Robots will be replacing you and me and where does that put us? Maybe we need to re-think our government, our leaders and the way business is conducted. Maybe Andrew Yang's proposal about a Universal Basic Income is not at all a bad idea. Just might solve the housing problem in Hawaii and maybe the US.

Les_Y · 1 year ago

The major you choose in college or the career track you get into usuallt determines your income (present and future). Blue collar jobs (plumbers, carpenters, electricians etc.) pay well. STEM jobs also pay well as does finance jobs. So many of our people have gone into low paying retail, restaurant and tourist jobs simply because they don’t have the educational qualifications and because those low paying jobs are dime a dozen in Hawaii due to our over dependence on tourism. As for affordable housing in good neighborhoods, it’s always NIMBY.

kbaybaby · 1 year ago

Kudos to the author of this article. She sounds like a very hard-working woman with a great moral compass. There's no doubt she'll go far in life.There's affordable housing out there, just not enough, nor in every neighborhood on the island.Even within "town", there are studios and 1-beds that rent for around $1200/mo. 2-beds around $1700/mo.If we go by the property manager's general metric of income qualification (gross income = 3x monthly rent), then you'd need to make around $20/hr to qualify for the studio/1-bed and $30/hr to qualify for the 2-bed. That's certainly not easy for the studio/1-bed, but it's doable with 2 jobs, both at minimum wage. For the 2-bed, that's $15/hr each on average, for presumably 2-adults living in that unit. That's a bit more doable.One can always live further from town for cheaper prices too. We can't all start with the fancy Kaka'ako condo or single-family house in Manoa.

basic_citizen123 · 1 year ago

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