Priced out of Paradise: When the cost of living gets too high, some Hawaii families call it quits

Priced out of Paradise: When the cost of living gets too high, some Hawaii families call it quits
Courtesy: Elizabeth Renaud
Courtesy: Elizabeth Renaud

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Everyone in Hawaii seems to know someone who is leaving because of the high cost of living, but tracking official numbers for out-migration isn't simple -- and anecdotes about families leaving in droves for more affordable mainland destinations don't seem to add up with Hawaii's growing population.

Still, there are a few telling statistics.
According to a Bloomberg News analysis of Census data, from 2013 to 2014, Honolulu ranked fourth in the nation for the percentage of residents leaving for other parts of the country.

The report indicated .74 percent of Honolulu's population left that year -- that amounts to 7,400 people.

A U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development analysis says that Honolulu's population growth can be attributed to births and international in migration. Meanwhile, HUD said, "Net domestic out-migration has occurred in every year since 2010 because people have moved to other parts of the nation to find affordable housing, employment or both."

That was certainly the case for Elizabeth Renaud, who relocated to Yuma, Ariz. in 1998.

"I'm getting paid now three times as much and the dollar stretches more than twice as much, as well," said Renaud, a professor of early childhood education at Arizona Western College.

The Kamehameha Schools graduate, who married a fellow Warriors alumnus, has four children.

"Do I want to be here? No, I'd rather be home. I'd rather be home next to and close to my family with a culture base and a land base that I'm familiar with," she said. "I want to be here because I want to provide a better life for my children and I want to expose them to more than just what can be available in the islands."

With their combined household income of about $150,000, the Renaud's purchased a 2,200 square foot four-bedroom home, complete with a pool.

"We never thought we'd be able to do that back home. We would probably still be renting if we were in Hawaii," said Renaud, who grew up living in government housing. "I've never lived in a house. I've always lived in an apartment."

Before her two oldest went away to college, Renaud says $100 a week filled their grocery cart with enough fresh produce and quality protein to feed their family of six.

"If I need something or I want something, I put it in the cart. We're not in a position where we have to make a list and stick to it," Renaud said.

But living cheap has come with its own costs.

"If we had the opportunity to go home and have the same lifestyle that we have here, we'd be gone tomorrow -- but that just doesn't exist and so we make really tough choices," Renaud said.

"My main sacrifice I think is not mine, it's my children's. They don't have summers with their first cousins, with their grandparents. They don't have that connection, and so whenever we go home -- they see in pictures, this is cousin so-and-so and this is uncle this-and-that, but they're holes in their memory. Holes in their history," she said.

She added, "The first two years I made my husband every month and a half drive to San Diego so that I could at least put my foot in the water or touch the water and know that somebody I know was on the other side in the same water as me and you know, I can make this connection."

The couple dreams of returning home to Hawaii when the two youngest are out of the house.

"We laugh because we've cried too much about wondering when that will be," Renaud said. "I think the only way that we got through the first few years was just saying it's a five-year plan, it's a five-year plan. I think after the 10th year, we decided to stop kidding ourselves and just accept that it's not all that bad. We moved because it was time. When we move home it needs to be for the right reasons at the right time."

This story is part of an ongoing series, "Priced out of Paradise," in which Hawaii News Now will explore Hawaii's high cost of living and why so many island families are struggling to make ends meet.

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