In wake of devastating wildfires, many fear they’ll be priced out of paradise

Doreen Hall is among the thousands of native Hawaiians who decided to leave the state with her family because of rising prices in the area.
Published: Nov. 6, 2023 at 7:53 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 7, 2023 at 11:03 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Maui rebuilds from the devastating fires, many residents fear they may be forever priced out of paradise.

Doreen Hall, born and raised in Pearl City, Oahu, was among those who made the difficult decision a few years ago to leave Hawaii with her husband and youngest son.

She’s back, but only on a short vacation.

Unlike city dwellers priced out to suburbs, Native Hawaiians aren’t just leaving their homes; they’re leaving their homeland.

Each year, 15,000 Native Hawaiians are leaving home for the mainland US, which now boasts a larger population of Hawaiians than Hawaii.

“This is where my heart is, you know, this is where my children is. This is where my mom and dad are laid to rest,” Doreen Hall said.

Rampant development, an influx of mainlanders moving to Hawaii, and the growing tourism industry have priced Native Hawaiians out of their homeland and, in some cases, have forced families apart.

“I’m really gonna miss, like, going out to just see the ocean and being able to, like, hear the waters like this,” Hope Malama said.

17-year-old Hope Malama’s parents left Hawaii to pursue economic opportunity last year, leaving her to finish high school alone.

“Sometimes I start to cry, cause like, as I said, I’m always around my dad. I call them almost every day, and we have like a family group chat, so we share pictures, pictures of our dogs and stuff. It’s really sad cuz I’m really close to my parents.”

Shantashia and Richard Pelen are among the many who are out of options.

“With the cost of living, it’s gonna be impossible for us to give our kids something out here. By going to the mainland, we can put our kids in a home that we can call ours,” Richard Pelen said.

Hawaiians are leaving their homeland for what they call the “ninth island of Hawaii,” also known as Las Vegas.

“It never gets dull though; this is insane, all these billboards, lights, it’s crazy. Don’t have this in Hawaii.”

Hawaiians were pioneers of the city’s entertainment scene in the 50s and 60s.

Over the decades, visitors became residents. But it wasn’t until the cost of home ownership in Hawaii skyrocketed that a trickle turned into a near exodus.

We met back up with Doreen in her adopted home here in Las Vegas.

“[Home ownership] comes with a huge sacrifice, but we can enjoy to live here. We can breathe. We can afford the mortgage payments. So to actually, uh, work to live, instead of living to work is amazing,” Doreen Hall said.

When asked how to bring the Hawaiian culture to a completely different place, Hall reflects on the ohana she’s formed in Vegas.

“I think a lot of ohana here in Las Vegas. We create our own Hawaii, and we continue to bring out traditions here every day.”

As past president of the Hawaii Las Vegas Civic Club, Doreen still remains active in the group aimed at helping transplants find community and opportunity in the desert, where Hawaiian-owned businesses are opening up each year, offering Hawaiians the opportunities they may not have back home.

The Pelen family said they hope to find these same opportunities as they move away from the only home they’ve ever known.

“I think the biggest thing that I don’t want my son to lose ... (is) Hawaiian values, how to speak Olelo Hawaii (the state’s indigenous language), how to understand Olelo Hawaii, learn how to treat each other with that aloha,” said Richard Pelen, referencing a belief in compassion, harmony, and love. “They instill a lot of good qualities in my son that represents who the Hawaiian people are, what we’re about.”

Despite what she’s built in Las Vegas, Hall said she hopes to move back to her homeland someday.

“The mythology back home is the honu (turtle) will always return home one day,” Hall said.

“And when that day comes, our home will welcome us with open hands and aloha. For now, this is home.”