Personal loan debt is a big issue for Hawaii residents.
That’s because of the state’s $2.3 trillion economy and its heavy reliance on home loans.
And many have little or no chance of making good on the loans, especially when they struggle to pay for food, rent, gas, utilities, child care, and other necessities.
But that’s changing.
Hawaii has the nation’s fifth-largest personal loan market, according to a recent study from Bankrate.
But while the state has a high number of borrowers, it’s also one of the least-populous in the nation.
It has the fourth-highest median household income among the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
That means people who make under $50,000 per year have access to affordable credit.
And, according a report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median annual income for a Hawaiian is $56,400, the second highest in the country.
But the state is also home to a lot of high-cost housing.
In 2017, the Honolulu housing market was the fourth most expensive in the U, according the research firm Real Estate Analytics.
And that includes housing that was purchased in the past year, or properties that are slated to be purchased.
According to the real estate website Zillow, the average home price in Honolulu is $1.85 million, a third of the city’s median price.
Hawaii’s median home value is $935,000, the third highest in America, according ZillOW.
That makes it one of those areas where Hawaii’s housing market is more competitive than in most states, according Mark Smith, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors.
In Hawaii, homes that are expected to be sold this year are going for far more than other markets.
Smith told Polygon, “It is so competitive that when people come here and buy homes, they’re paying less than other homes in the market.”
In fact, the state now has the third-highest mortgage interest rate in the United States, according Bankrate, behind only New York and California.
That may help explain why the housing market has grown so quickly in Hawaii, as the state continues to make headway in the recovery.
“Hawaii has a lot going for it in terms of a number of metrics,” Smith said.
It’s diversified into real estate, retail, agriculture, and it’s really diversified geographically.
It really is a pretty diversified economy.
There’s a lot more potential in this market than many of the other states.”
Smith noted that, while Hawaii is not an island, the island’s proximity to land makes it a very attractive place for investors.
“The fact that we have a very robust infrastructure, so that’s an advantage here,” he said.
In the past, many home buyers in Hawaii were drawn to the more expensive areas, such as Honolulu and the city of Waikiki.
Now, some are moving to the less expensive areas.
For example, the number of properties being sold in Waikīkī, the area that is home to the Waikiri, has doubled over the past five years, according an analysis by Real Estate Intelligence.
In 2018, it was down to just 5.3 percent of the total listings.
And the number has remained stable in 2019.
But there is one area where the home market is struggling to grow: the rural areas of the Big Island.
Smith noted the fact that many of these homes were bought in the boom years.
“But now, the houses are being sold at a loss,” he explained.
“And it’s just been a huge issue.”
Smith said that many people in the islands are also moving away from the expensive, well-connected areas in order to afford housing.
“There are a lot less people in Hawaii,” he continued.
“That’s the biggest problem, of course, in terms to housing affordability in Hawaii.”
Smith believes that a lot can be done to improve affordability.
“One thing that’s been happening in Hawaii for a long time is there’s been a trend in the Big Isle and the Big West to do more of the low-income housing, because it’s cheaper,” he told Polygons.
“We have a lot cheaper land in Hawaii than the states of New York, California, and Texas.”
But, he added, “There’s a significant gap in the cost of housing for the most vulnerable residents of the island.”
The state is trying to do something about that.
In 2020, the Hawaii State Legislature passed the Home Affordable Modification Act, which aims to address some of the housing affordability issues that Smith highlighted.
The law requires all housing developers to include in their contracts a plan to increase the number or percentage of affordable housing units in the building.
“It’s not only the housing that has to be affordable, it also has to make it affordable for people who are living in poverty,”