KAHUKU (KHON2) — As Iam Tongi embarks on a new chapter in his musical journey after winning American Idol, the Kahuku native continues to demonstrate an undying love for his island roots. However, Hawaii has not always been his home.

Before rising to fame on “American Idol,” Tongi said his family was priced out of their tropical paradise, forcing them to relocate to Washington.

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This raises the question: who else is leaving, and what measures are being taken to ensure affordable housing?

When Tongi visited Oahu last week for a hometown visit, he had the chance to reconnect with family members.

“A lot of my family moved away but having them back brings so much joy. We hope they can eventually return here permanently,” expressed Uluamu Langi, Tongi’s first cousin.

Across the nation, increasing regulation has driven up home prices. Despite the scarcity of land in the islands, research from the University of Hawaii Economics Research Organization suggests that a significant portion of our housing costs is self-inflicted, with over-regulation of the housing market leading to a low supply and high demand.

UHERO has discovered that Hawaii has the highest level of regulation in the country, resulting in a median resale value that is two and a half times the national average.

“For many years we haven’t built enough housing, so we’ve seen prices that have tripled in the last 20 years. Those who could afford a house 20 years ago would find it nearly impossible with a similar income today,” said Justin Tyndall, UHERO Assistant Professor of Economics.

Part of the solution may lie in permitting multi-family units and apartments, thus making homeownership more accessible without needing a significant windfall such as winning American Idol.

“When it comes to new housing in the state, we see some single-family homes and large condo towers, but little in between,” Tyndall explained. “It’s not a coincidence that across the state, it’s illegal to build anything other than single-family homes.”

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi is keen to tackle the affordable housing issue swiftly, which includes promoting the construction of low-rise apartments.

“That’s our end game,” Mayor Blangiardi stated. “To ease the situation and to create housing either through acquisition or working creatively to avoid hindering developers.”

“We’re also looking to incentivize our Bill 7 program, an unprecedented measure that offers incentives for private developers,” the mayor added. “Currently, we have around 35 properties in the pipeline to encourage local builders to create affordable housing.”

It’s a daunting task. According to the United State Census, Hawaii has lost 15,077 residents since 2020.

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Mayor Blangiardi remains committed to turning this around, declaring, “One of our key priorities is to halt any further out-migration. We can ill afford to lose any more people.”