Remote workers are flocking to Hawaii. But is that good for the islands? | Hawaii

Mike McConnell was afraid to go outside, even for a walk.

After surviving a near-fatal sepsis infection, he tried to adopt a healthier lifestyle, but it proved difficult to make as the coronavirus spilled into his home in San Diego, California.

“It was a bit like The Walking Dead, just trying to avoid everyone,” said the 53-year-old financial advisor.

So McConnell called a real estate agent in Hawaii, a place he was only on vacation, and started searching properties on FaceTime. In October, he bought a $ 1.2 million home on rural Kauai’s north coast without seeing it in person.

“When I landed at the airport, I thought, ‘What did I really buy?'” McConnell said. “But when I walked into the house for the first time, I was thrilled.”

McConnell is not alone. The newfound freedoms to work remotely have led a wave of people to flee the US mainland to the Hawaiian Islands. While the total number of people displaced is unknown, signs point to a large influx. Real estate agents say demand has soared. A local business owner-sponsored program to encourage teleworker flights to Honolulu in exchange for community service received more than 50,000 applications for just 50 slots.

Some newcomers make a long-cherished dream come true; others tend to move spontaneously without knowing how long they will be staying. They come for the climate, landscape, and abundance of year-round outdoor activities. Many are fleeing virus hotspots; Hawaii has sustained some of the lowest rates of Covid infection in the country throughout the pandemic.

Among them are technicians from Silicon Valley, couples forced into early retirement by the pandemic, and parents taking the opportunity to enroll their children in private schools that offer face-to-face classes. There are also a number of prominent new Hawaiian residents. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is weathering the pandemic on Kauai, where he owns a 700-acre estate. Larry Ellison, founder of software giant Oracle, which owns 98% of Hawaii’s smallest inhabited island of Lanai, announced that he now lives full time in Hawaii.

A beach goer wears a protective mask in Honolulu, Hawaii. The state has maintained some of the lowest Covid-19 levels. Photo: Marco Garcia / Reuters

And while the move has been a blessing for some, it has also increased tensions – and exacerbated a housing market that is already unaffordable for many locals. And for some, it has brought back painful historical memories of outsiders who took advantage of the Hawaiian lifestyle without regard for the consequences.

“Since then people have jumped off the ship and stayed in Hawaii [Captain] Cook, ”said Jonathan Likeke Scheuer, chairman of the state land use commission. “Some people will go back and some will stay. If you really only intend to get through the pandemic here, just try to do as little damage as possible. “

A booming housing market

Hawaii has lost more residents than it gained in years. Many people, especially young adults, are displaced by the lack of job prospects, the lack of affordable housing, and the fact that Hawaii has the lowest median wage in the country measured by the exorbitant cost of living.

While it’s not yet clear whether the wave of new pandemic residents has completely reversed this trend, the signs of a shift are clearly visible in the housing market, where realtors say demand has increased.

In the second half of 2020, single-family homes, which would typically take months or years to sell, began attracting new buyers in hours or days, Hawaii realtors say. Bidding wars are the order of the day and are driving home sales prices to new heights.

In addition, real estate that was once purchased as a vacation home is increasingly being sold as owner-occupiers, according to real estate agents.

Virtual home tours support the real estate craze by enabling people to view real estate listings from thousands of kilometers away, despite travel restrictions and mandatory quarantine.

“I had a scenario where on the first day the property went on sale, these people made a preventive bid that was way above the asking price,” said Big Island realtor Beth Thoma Robinson. “I had to tell all other prospective buyers that, if they want to participate at all, they have to get into a big bidding war.”

Meanwhile, some people who grew up in Hawaii but moved to the mainland have been lured back by the ability to “work anywhere” while enjoying a paycheck outside of the state. Hannah Sirois, a partner at Corcoran Pacific Properties in Kauai, said she recently showed a Facebook employee a property who had come home to live with her family while she searches for her own home.

“There is an influx of people who have Kauai in their souls, who have lived here before and never really lost the feeling of wanting to live here,” she told Sirois.

One program has offered free flights to teleworkers relocating to Hawaii.
One program has offered free flights to teleworkers relocating to Hawaii. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times / REX / Shutterstock

But while the booming market may be good news for the industry, it is driving prices up for many local families.

Hawaii has the highest percentage of multigenerational homes in the country, with roughly one in five residents living with three or more generations under one roof, according to US census data.

The loss of tourism jobs resulting from the crippling impact of the pandemic on travel is forcing some Hawaiian families to pack even more relatives into already overcrowded conditions, said Karen Ono, executive director of the Kauai Board of Realtors.

“There’s this middle gap of people who are leaving the island because they can’t get a house, because they make too much money to fall into the affordable housing category, and they don’t have enough to be able to afford the market price . ”Said. “The void is our firefighters, our nurses, our doctors – all the people we need here.”

“This is not a place to escape and have a mai tai”

The arrival of newcomers to Hawaii has a contentious history. The rapid depopulation of Hawaiian Native Americans in the early 19th century was due in part to Western diseases introduced by white businessmen who forced Hawaiians to leave their lands to build sprawling pineapple and sugar cane plantations.

The decline in native Hawaiian populations during that era – and the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom by the US government in 1893 – remains a source of intergenerational trauma and anger against outsiders.

As a result, the idea of ​​incentivizing Hawaiian escapism during a public health crisis has not gone down well with everyone.

Although Hawaii is in the enviable position of having the lowest Covid-19 death rate in the country, the virus has decimated the tourism industry, which is boosting the state economy, and has pushed the unemployment rate from lowest to highest. As fewer planes arrive, the hotels are empty. An unprecedented number of residents are grappling with food insecurity as they have been unemployed for almost a year.

So when it comes to wealthy newcomers, some locals lack the aloha spirit that Hawaii is famous for.

“Participation in the community is more important than anything, and I don’t want to ignore the fact that transplant residents or even tourists can be a part of it,” said Tamara Paltin, a Maui county council member. “But this is not a place for you to escape to your own lonely world, work behind a computer screen and go to the beach and have a mai tai.”

Many hope that newcomers will make an effort to understand <a class=Hawaiian culture, rather than just adopting an idealized lifestyle.” data-src=”” height=”3511″ width=”5267″ loading=”lazy” class=”dcr-1989ovb”/>
Many hope that newcomers will make an effort to understand Hawaiian culture, rather than just adopting an idealized lifestyle. Photo: Gregory Shamus / Getty Images

But the state will also benefit from the influx of new residents, many with hefty paychecks that could help the local economy rebound and offset pandemic losses on the state’s tax base.

Movers and Shakas, the company-sponsored program to attract remote workers to Hawaii with 50,000 applicants, is based on exactly this idea.

George Yarbrough is the founder of Hub Coworking Hawaii, a co-working space that works with Movers and Shakas to connect attendees with desks. He believes that structured integration of outsiders into the Hawaiian community and culture provides an opportunity to educate them about unique and well-established customs and values.

Don’t take mangoes out of your neighbor’s garden without permission. Take off your shoes before entering a house. Don’t put your bum on the table of a picnic bench that people are eating on. Drive slowly. Treat the elderly with great respect. Don’t show up for a new surf break and steal the best waves.

“During the summer we saw more and more new faces at the South Shore Surf Breaks,” said Yarbrough. “Sometimes people are just clueless.”

Up until now, McConnell said that the reality of life in Hawaii doesn’t differ far from fantasy. The state’s low virus count, due in part to its strict pandemic travel rules, has allowed it to freely enjoy Hawaii’s pristine, uncrowded beaches and other signature delights.

As he adapts to island life, McConnell says he’s just trying to adapt.

“I don’t want to take California with me,” said McConnell. “I like it here the way it is.”

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