(p. 1) When Pauline Kauinani Souza was a child in Hawaii, she spent early mornings watering her grandfather’s watermelons and papaya trees.
Her family lived frugally, eating homemade bread and heating water over a fire for bathing. But the no-frills life came with the ultimate perk: living near the beach and drifting off to sleep at night to the sound of waves gently crashing on the shore.
Now, at 80, Ms. Souza lives in Las Vegas, a desert city of neon reinvention far from the ocean and her ancestral home. It is not paradise, but it is full of Native Hawaiians like her who have flocked there in recent years for the endless entertainment, reasonable cost of living and something few people can find in Hawaii: a house they can afford.
“I own it outright,” she said proudly of her two-bedroom, ranch-style home in Las Vegas. “In Hawaii, there aren’t many people who can say that.”
Increasingly, Las Vegas is drawing Hawaiians who came to visit and decided to stay, convinced that an affordable faux version of the islands is better than an endless struggle to make ends meet in the real thing.
Between 2011 and 2021, the population of Native Hawaiians and (p. 19) other Pacific Islanders in Clark County, Nev., which includes Las Vegas, grew by about 40 percent, for a total of nearly 22,000 people. That was the greatest number of newcomers in that demographic in any county outside Hawaii, according to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. In that same period, the total population of Clark County grew by about 17 percent.
For many, the draw is real estate: Houses in the Las Vegas area have a median listing price of about $460,000, compared with about $800,000 in Honolulu, according to Federal Reserve Economic Data.
Americans migrating for cheaper housing is not unusual, as seen most dramatically in the decades-long shift from the Northeast to the Sunbelt. But this migration from the impossibly lush natural landscape of the islands to the brash desert of Las Vegas is a particularly vivid glimpse of how the search for housing remakes the country in sometimes surprising ways.
. . .
In 2022, Hawaii had the highest cost of living out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to data from the Council for Community and Economic Research. The state imports the vast majority of its food, making everyday groceries especially expensive. And strict regulations on building have contributed to housing shortages and prices out of reach for many.
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(Note: the online version of the story has the date May 20, 2023, and has the title “There’s No Ocean in Sight. But Many Hawaiians Make Las Vegas Their Home.” The online version says that the print version has the title “Desert Provides A New Paradise For Hawaiians” but my national print version has the title “They’re ‘Priced Out of Paradise’ But Hawaiians Thrive in Desert.”)