This letters features reporting from "Most of Us in Hampton Roads Rent Our Homes, but We Still Want the American Dream of Owning" by Mechelle Hankerson, a Pulitzer Center reporting project
Dear Gabe Johnson,
The cost of housing continues to rise in many areas. People who were once stable living in the communities they grew up in are now being forced to move away from their homes due to the rise in rent and unavailability of affordable houses to purchase. In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 54% of residents are burdened (spending 30% or more) by the cost of their housing (Hankerson). Most people have to rent housing rather than investing in their own homes. Renters feel upset that they will not be able to afford the “American Dream” of owning a home to call their own.
This issue is all too familiar to Hawai’i residents. Our cost of housing continues to rise to the extent that only the rich can afford to buy a home. A growing number of my community members have been forced out of their homes to mainland areas by the high cost of living, including the unmanageable cost of housing. Their family abodes are now occupied by individuals from the mainland, who purchased their home for over a million dollars. Our aunties and uncles–those who run our classrooms, our local generational businesses, and our school buses–who have been dedicated to the Hawai’i workforce for 20+ years, struggle to afford housing. Family homes, passed on for generations, were sold to foreign vacation home renters, just to be able to help their family members afford their rent. The individuals who give Hawai’i its “aloha spirit” are the ones who are being affected the most. In time, Hawai’i will become an industrialized millionaire set of islands which natives and locals can’t even afford to visit, if changes to housing costs and other costs of living are not balanced soon.
As the Chair of the Affordable Housing Committee, I beg you to help us. I hate to see the community disappear more and more each year. We need more affordable housing projects. We need less focus on profit and industrialization for the U.S., and more focus on preserving Hawai’i’s culture, people, and local businesses. We need restrictions on who can purchase housing, as there are homeowners who only live here part-time and do not rent to locals throughout the remainder of the year. We need to fill vacant housing and prevent the mass spread of vacation rentals that take away living spaces for those who have called the islands home for generations. We need to prioritize the people. The people of Hawai’i who have already unwillingly given up so much to foreign pleasure and profit.
I am no longer speaking of the “American Dream”; I speak of the Hawai’i Dream. The dream to not fear for our future of persisting where we grew up, the fear of the decline of culture, the fear of losing those who we love to profit foreign investors. Most of all, the fear that I cannot begin to fathom, of being forced to move out of the islands where your family originates. There will be no more paradise without the people who make the communities so culturally vibrant. Hawai’i is not the utopia it is advertised as to foreign home buyers without the people who live here. Hawai’i is the people. Please help us preserve the people.
Maja Szpunar is a senior at King Kekaulike High School in Pukalani, Hawai'i.