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Veteran Real Estate Broker Charts Kaua‘i's Housing Endgame, One Way Out

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Emerald Isle Properties, Kaua‘i
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The average price of a home on Kaua‘i has gone up more than 40% in the past year. That’s according to Locations Hawaii who also says the average selling price in May was nearly $2.4 million. As for securing affordable housing for local people, at least one veteran real estate broker contends it’s already too late.

Jim Edmonds and his wife Harvest moved to Kaua'i in 1985. Then in 1990, he became a real estate broker and started Emerald Isle Properties.

"Basically what I'm telling you is that the average person can no longer live here who has lived here for generations. They are being driven off the island," he said.

Edmonds says a recent check showed the cheapest house on the North Shore of Kaua'i was $1,230,000.

"It's old, it's in bad shape, it does not have privacy. It sits on 7,000 square feet of land which is like a postage stamp."

Yesterday Edmonds says, there were only 45 houses on the entire island under a $1.5 million.

"As a broker, I know more people come out in that price range, but it's lower and lower quality," he said. "It's people who never dreamed they could sell their home for a million five. So we're actually seeing people who are selling their homes who can't afford to stay here because they've sold their home and they look around and they can't buy anything. And they can't even rent anything because the rents are doing the same thing."

Edmonds says about five years ago, he focused his company's attention on housing for local people.

"A very sad joke is it took us about 20 minutes to figure out five years ago there was nothing we could do to help the local people because the prices had already left them in the dust."

Since we spoke a week ago, Edmonds says 18 more homes in the $1.5 million range have sold on Kaua'i.

"So if you work at Foodland and you make $12.50 an hour, you can't even rent anything because of these multi-millionaires and billionaires who are moving to the island. And they have no clue. They do not realize what they're doing, but they bring an entourage with them."

Edmonds says 30 billionaires now live in a 20-minute radius of his home in Kilauea. And wealthy residents bring their doctors, lawyers, teachers, massage therapists, friends and relatives—though it's true, not all stay.

"They go wait a minute, this is an island! Where's the opera, where's all the theaters, we don't have any theaters except for Waimea and that's an hour and a half drive from here," he said. "They end up selling and moving out pretty quickly, some of them."

"So when I say 8,500 people left the island last year, I would say probably 75% of them are local people who've been here for generations, going somewhere to try to find work," Edmonds said. "It's heart-rending for us, and we're really struggling to try to do something about it, but it's such a long slow process."

Edmonds has formed Permanently Affordable Living, a nonprofit that tackles housing, utilities, food, transportation, and other factors related to the cost of living. They will be building about 30 houses in the next year.

Three years ago, Kaua'i county identified a need for 5,000 affordable housing units in five years.

"So when you ask that question, 'What is it going to take?' There's only one thing I can see that will solve it. If you know any of our super-wealthy new friends, our new neighbors, please tell them to reach out and help us."

"They could solve this issue with lunch money," he told Hawai‘i Public Radio. "If we've got 30 billionaires here, and they put in $30 million, $50 million each, we could solve this problem on this island."

"We've done the research to do it so that the people will not only have a more comfortable life, they'll have a lifetime of pleasure rather than hard work. Most people on this island work three jobs," he said.

Jim Edmonds has a monthly column in the Garden Island newspaper and a program on KKCR radio. Find out more about Permanently Affordable Living Kaua'i at their website.

Edmonds also appeared on The Aloha Friday Conversation on July 2, 2021.

Jim Edmonds - July 2, 2021
The Aloha Friday Conversation

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