Naka Nathaniel: What Happens When the Movers Are Priced Out Of Paradise? - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel spent much of his career as a journalist with The New York Times, helping launch, covering war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the collapse of the second tower on 9/11. He lives in Waimea on the Big Island. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at

Every box they unpack brings them a step closer to leaving themselves.

Zoomers and Boomers, remote workers and retirees, rely on movers like Mana Lolo to schlep furniture and household goods from containers into dream homes along the Kona Coast.

Lolo and his coworkers at Kona Trans handle big household moves. They’re often moving in people who have “made it” elsewhere and are ready to claim their reward: a place in paradise.

Lolo is on the frontline of the struggle over the cost of living in Hawaii.

“You can’t fault people that work hard to make their money and they just want to live their best life,” he said.

“For instance, there’s a couple from California and we have moved them in at Honaunau Bay. Nice, nice place, nice area. I guess they came here on vacation in 2016, saw the piece of land, fell in love with it, and bought it. They built their dream home right over Honaunau Bay. That’s the kind of people that we see moving in.” 

However, every box he unpacks for a newcomer brings him closer to packing his own family’s belongings and leaving. 

Mana Lolo, (right) with his son Semisi (center), at Kealakehe High School graduation last month. (Courtesy: Mana Lolo)

Lolo, 40, has been saving to move his family to Oregon for two years. His wife grew up on Hawaii island and they raised their two sons here. Now that his older son, Semisi, has graduated from Kealakehe High School, he’s planning on leaving Hawaii.

“My sons know that the mainland has a lot more to offer, but they also know they’ll miss this place because this is where they grew up.”

“It’s just sad that after 20 years living here that we are actually going to leave this place,” he said. “The cost of living is just too expensive. The pay, it’s just not much. People with money are moving over to Hawaii and building their dream homes and affecting the prices of homes and stuff out here and I just feel like, what can we do about that? Man, there’s nothing.”

Lolo knows that leaving Hawaii could be hard for his boys, just like it was for him when, at 13, his family moved to California for better economic opportunities.

“It was a culture shock for me to move from the little island to the mainland,” he said “Everything was just a shock. I managed to finish high school, but really I was a lost kid.”

He returned to island life soon after finishing school in California.

“When I moved back over here, I completely felt at home,” Lolo said. “Just everything, the people, the food, the lifestyle.”

Leaving Hawaii can be tough emotionally and financially. For most families, they have to save up to make the move away. It isn’t a matter of suddenly deciding to leave and then you’re gone. It can be a struggle to keep afloat while scraping up savings. 

“I’m thinking of picking up a second job just to have a little bit more cash,” said Lolo. “Most people are here working two, three jobs. That’s normal for local people.”

And Lolo considers himself fortunate because of his housing situation: “I used to rent, but right now I’m staying at a place that my mom-in-law bought. So I’m just paying HOA fees right now and saving up money for the move that we have to do next year. So yeah, I just feel lucky.”

Downtown Las Vegas’ Golden Nugget casino along Fremont Street.
The internal migration of Native Hawaiians is the reason the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement will meet in Las Vegas this year. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017)

Lolo and locals don’t hire moving companies like his to ship their goods from Hawaii. They take suitcases, not containers.

When I asked him if he thought he’d move back to Hawaii again one day, I was hopeful for a “yes.”

“I don’t think so, but my wife believes we will, she’s pretty much a Big Island girl,” he said. “She believes that we’re coming back here once the kids are settled on the mainland. But I don’t know, I think it’s going to be hard.”

Lolo said he was surprised to learn that there are now more Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders living outside of Hawaii than in Hawaii.

It’s the reason why the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement will be hosting its convention in Las Vegas next week

“I think we got to look at the politicians, people who’re running the state,” he said. “I feel like they’re looking out for the tourists and the rich people more than they’re looking out for the actual local people out here.” 

So what happens when movers like Lolo are forced to move away from Hawaii because they’ve been “priced out of paradise” because of the people they helped move in? I hate to use the word “irony,” but it’s the word I can’t get out of my head. 

So what’s to be done? Does he have a solution to the situation?

“I just feel like a lot of people — I just accept it as is and just try to move on,” he said. “If you just sit around and be salty about it, it’s just not going to help. Hawaii is special. It’s such a destination that everybody else wants to move out here. People with money are just living their best life, but the local people are struggling.”

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About the Author

Naka Nathaniel

Naka Nathaniel spent much of his career as a journalist with The New York Times, helping launch, covering war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the collapse of the second tower on 9/11. He lives in Waimea on the Big Island. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at

Latest Comments (0)

It doesn't help when Hawaii keeps building high-end condos and houses which cater to the rich buying up property and driving up prices. While people are free (and have the right) to move and live where they desire, the state can do a lot more for the locals by building more affordable workforce homes. These homes will not only provide housing security, which retains our people, it will also serve as a stepping stone for the younger generation as they build up wealth to upgrade to bigger homes later. This issue is not unique to Hawaii. Other countries have successfully built affordable homes along side expensive rich homes so that both the rich and the working families have a place to live. In Tokyo, there are government subsidized homes right in the middle of a rich neighborhood. Imagine that. Will the folks in our "nice" neighborhoods ever allow that? The issue is not just government...

Mnemosyne · 3 months ago

Hi everyone,I have lived in Hawaii for 50 years. In my opinion there is no reason we should not be thriving. I have watched over and over again as our legislatures fine, close, harass, overregulate everything creative, from small family businesses to successful things already running, even retroactively going back and closing them (like the Superferry who apparently "forgot" to do a test and must close immediately). Even the senior citizen who is renting out a room in their own house in which they live is now considered a criminal if it is less than thirty days. In my case i do small van tours, respectfully feeding back to the community and empowering local people and businesses throughout our day. But new laws make it a crime to show our visitors a beach starting at Makapuu, all of Waimanalo, all of Kailua, the entire north shore coastline, even though these places are uncrowded on weekdays. Who will come on my tour if I am not allowed to show them anything? Now in my sixties, is my job done too? The oppression here is caused by an entrenched buerocracy who listen to the most hateful voices and make unreasonable laws not based on truth. Praying….

Gregory_A · 3 months ago

It's not one thing that got us to to where we are today. It takes money to subsidize the housing market so that the middle and working class can afford homes. It doesn't help that the same people that shrank government services at the Federal level, are the same people that want to take an axe at government here. It takes money! We used to get all sorts of block grants from HUD in the 60's and 70's to help stabilize housing, we built Mililani, we built Hawaii Kai...those things no longer exist. So what does that mean? That means the State has to do what the Feds once provided. Unfortunately to do nothing, constrains the housing market and forces prices upwards. It's not the land that is the issue, we have boatloads of land all along the rail route that was imminent domained. Along the King Street corridor. More then enough to provide enough housing. In Hilo there is enough land in Hawaiian Acres, in Kona between Costco and Waikaloa, to build suburban housing communities, and that's just off the top of my head. What is lacking is the political will, the funding, and to go after construction fraud so that the people are getting the best value for their dollar.

TheMotherShip · 3 months ago

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