Finding an affordable place to live in Hawaii is a challenge. I looked at all sorts of options before coming out here and I am still looking today, despite how nice the place is where I currently rent. As is my M.O., I am alway looking for something different, out of the ordinary, off the beaten path so to speak. Mainly something cheaper but with a bit of adventure added in. Said looking has led me to some interesting options should I want to pursue them in the future. These next couple or so posts will detail said options and what you might want to consider if you wanted to move out here as I have. It’s not for everybody, and in my case, things could change in the months and years to come, but it’s also fun to explore different ways of living in the islands. So read on…
Living off the grid has been something many of us have considered over the past few years. And now, with the country on the verge of civil war, rioting in the streets, billionaires taking over the government ready to loot and pillage the great unwashed for the few pennies we have left, and religious zealots waving their little books around invoking plagues and frogs on anyone who doesn’t agree with their invisible, non existent, dictator in the sky, even more are looking to go off grid in their living style. The idea of not having to rely on the power companies, municipal water supplies, and grocery stores for ones needs has a lot of appeal. Finding a small piece of land somewhere out of the way, putting up a cabin/yurt/tiny house, and going back to a simpler time may well involve some hard work and labor, but it still beats punching a time clock and living in the material world. At least from my view.
I, personally, have been working towards an off grid lifestyle for quite a while now. I did manage it to a certain extent when I was living on a sailboat in the Keys. I wasn’t completely off grid as I was always tied up to a marina dock with shore power, running water, and a flushing toilet within walking distance. Had I stayed on the boat, things would have gotten more off-griddy because I would have wound up on the hook in a mooring field dependent on the sun and wind for power and going ashore to get other necessities.
But, things turned out very differently and instead of living on said boat, I find myself in a true island paradise. I am still looking for ways to live off grid out here and recently started researching said subject in regards to how it might work in Hawaii. Turns out, it is doable, and affordable.
Rent in Hawaii is high, very high. But, compared to Key West, there are many affordable places out here, depending on where one would want to be. The room I am renting now costs $800 a month, the most I’ve ever paid for a place, but it does include all utilities, wifi, full use of the kitchen, and is in a really nice location. Compared to what other places I have seen in the area, it is a bargain. I get along with the landlady and genuinely like the place. However, it is at the high end of my budget and cutting the rent back a few hundred dollars would make things more better. For now, it works as I need something steady whilst I change my state citizen status and take care of a few other things.
Getting a full apartment, even a little studio or efficiency is pretty much out of budget, at least on Maui. Kihei, where I currently reside is one of the more expensive places on the island and for good reason. It’s got perfect weather, beautiful beaches, and is convenient to get around in. I doubt I would ever find something more cheaper in the Kihei area than what I currently have now but it sure is a nice place to stay. Other areas of Maui, particularly around Kahului, Paia, and Haiku on the northeastern side of the island are cheaper, but for now, I will stay put.
Honolulu, on Oahu, has more affordable apartments, especially around the university, but it’s big city living with all the crime, noise, and congestion one would expect. No thanks. On the other end, however, is the Big Island of Hawaii. Here there are many more affordable places including apartments and such, especially around the town of Hilo on the northeast part of the island. There is a branch of the university along with all the shopping, airport, and bus service. It could be an option down the road.
As for buying anything, it is totally out of the question. The average home price in Hawaii is around $750,000. I see condos for sale all over in the $250,000 range but rarely anything cheaper. And being as I have been living out of rucksack for the past few years, the idea of owning a house doesn’t fit in well with my current mindset. However…
I started looking around at the tiny house movement which seems to be picking up steam, especially here in the islands. In case you are unfamiliar, tiny houses are exactly what the title implies. Very small houses, about 100 to 200 square feet of living space, with all the amenities of a big house, just in a smaller package. Tiny houses have full bathrooms, small kitchens, living space, and sleeping quarters, and look like a real house, just very small. They are usually set up to be as self sufficient as possible. Solar to provide power, composting toilet, holding tanks for waste, and water tanks for storage. Tiny houses have a very small footprint on the environment and can be set up most anywhere, until government steps in of course.
Unsurprisingly, tiny houses face a lot of legal hurdles. Because they are small, and easy to build, and rarely tie into the grid run by the big utilities, there is little to no profit in them. Developers and builders make money off the big mcmansions while utility companies manipulate the laws to make hooking into the grid mandatory. Governments mandate homes must be a certain minimum square footage in living space, so tiny houses don’t pass muster.
To get around some of these issues, most tiny houses are put on trailers. So in essence, instead of being considered actual houses, they are legally considered to be house trailers or rv’s, depending on where they are. It’s all bureaucratic nonsense of course and unless tiny houses become mainstream, there won’t be many changes. But, the movement is there and gaining steam in some places, one of which is Hawaii.
Much like the Florida Keys, Hawaii has an affordable housing problem. Basically, there are no affordable houses. In the Keys it’s a bit different being the islands are heavily regulated in terms of how many people can actually live there. While the environment is a concern, sometimes a lot less of a concern, the big issue is how to get all the people who reside in the Keys off the islands in case of a major storm. US 1 has been constantly improved to allow more easy exiting to the mainland but it still takes a minimum of 24 hours to get everybody out of harms way. Currently the Keys have about 70,000 permanent residents and at any time, several thousand tourists. Making the decision to evacuate and then making it happen requires a lot of work and cooperation. Adding more people to the mix just makes it more difficult. Then there is the strain on utilities. Power, water, and most importantly getting rid of waste is affected as the population grows. Flooding, which is now very common even with an average high tide, and is in no way related to climate change, just ask anybody in the new government, is becoming more and more of an issue. Most of the Keys lie only a few feet above sea level. As the seas rise, the Keys will shrink. It’s all too real and happening now. So, in the Keys, tiny houses have not really been accepted yet, mainly for the reasons stated above. Living on a boat or in a rv is about as close one can get to tiny house living in the Keys. At least you can either rise with the tide or roll out when it gets too wet underfoot.
In Hawaii, there are no evacuations for storms, except maybe close to the shore line. And even then, everyone can go up the side of a mountain and be perfectly safe. There is no real rate of growth ordinance. Instead, the price of housing, always dependent on demand and demand is high, keeps the number of people living here at a manageable level. So when I started looking at off the grid option, I found tiny houses were a thing here, and growing in popularity. And setting one up for off the grid living, well, it can be done, but within limits. More on this in the next post.