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High housing costs on Kauaʻi contribute to labor shortage

FILE - Houses around Nawiliwili Bay, near Līhuʻe on Kauaʻi.
Bob Linsdell
Wikimedia Commons
FILE - Houses around Nawiliwili Bay, near Līhuʻe on Kauaʻi.

Kauaʻi has some of the same challenges as the rest of Hawaiʻi — high housing costs and a severe labor shortage. The pressures in this small community just seem a bit higher.

The Kauaʻi broker for Hawaii Life says the firm’s biggest sale this year was a $36 million estate. But that’s hardly a typical home.

Rod Easterly says the starting price for an ordinary three-bedroom fixer-upper would be $700,000. An ordinary home that’s been updated? More like $900,000.

Rents are especially excruciating. Sue Kanoho, president and CEO of the Kauaʻi Visitors Bureau, has seen one rental property change hands, and change prices radically — from $2,500 a month for a house to $11,500.

The cost of housing is one of the factors exacerbating the island’s labor shortage, one so severe it’s starting to kill businesses.

Mark Perriello, president of the Kauaʻi Chamber of Commerce, cites the closure of the Coconut Fish Café as one example.

Other businesses are becoming landlords on the side, renting out those expensive properties and subletting to the staff so they have a place to stay.

In the visitor industry, which has always benefited from a transient workforce willing to work on Kauaʻi for the sake of living there for a spell, employee churn is high.

Eager, would-be employees arrive and quickly realize they can’t afford this experience.

A. Kam Napier is the editor-in-chief of Pacific Business News.
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