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Puna Ecovillages Offer Affordable Alternatives on Hawai‘i Island

March 17, 2019, 11:02 AM HST
* Updated March 17, 11:30 AM
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Residents of Cinderland Ecovillage gather for a community dinner. Courtesy photo

Hawai‘i is known for being one of the most expensive places to live; however, Puna is becoming a popular destination for those choosing alternative housing situations to make renting in Hawai‘i affordable.

Because much of the Puna District is in the East Rift Zone, real estate prices are typically much more affordable than in other areas of Hawai‘i and the recent eruption has caused real estate prices to drop even lower than normal. However, real estate agents anticipate that within a year or two, prices will recover.

Heather Hedenschau is the principal broker of Big Island Brokers with 29 years experience as a real estate agent. She believes the affordable land here brings buyers who have inventive ideas for relatively inexpensive building.

“I think it’s just a lot of supply and demand,” said Hedenschau. “There is a lot more fee simple land here than anywhere in the state and also, honestly, areas that were impacted by the lava have reduced values, too.”

Mojo Muftapha, owner of the Puna eco-community Hedonisia (which was recently burnt down in the 2018 flow), said the affordable land in Puna was a big factor in what motivated him to build here.

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“By keeping land affordable, it supplied us with land,” he said, “ because there wasn’t big scale development it kept it very alternative… very natural living.”

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Median home sale prices in Puna (between January and April of 2018) were nearly half that of the rest of the the Big Island at $223,000 compared to $409,500. For the other islands, the median price for single-family homes was $790,000 on O‘ahu, $725,000 on Maui and $640,000 on Kauaʻi. Also, Puna had far more vacant lot sales in 2018 than any other other part of Big Island, with a median price of only $20,000.

Residents who choose alternative housing situations at Cinderland Ecovillage. Courtesy photo

Generally, housing less than 30% of the total household income is classified as affordable. Big Island renters spend a median of 27.9% of their income on rent. However, 23.4% of renters are spending half their income on rent.

While the lava has decreased house values, it has also had an inverse relationship on rent in the area.

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“A lot of the homes that were lost were rentals so the rental shortage has increased some of the rental pricing,” said Hedenschau.

Residents at eco-villages such as Cinderland, however, pay just $300 a month. Several of these eco-communities in Puna house up to 30 people. They are off-grid and grow a lot of their own food. Due to the amount of money it is possible to save by going off-grid, the lifestyle is quickly gaining popularity. In fact, it is estimated that by 2035 over one in 10 people will live off-grid.

“It’s gaining popularity all over the world,” said Jezus (owner of Cinderland Ecovillage). “It’s existential survival for the next generation… The land is pretty cheap in Hawai‘i because of Kīlauea and also the regulations are very lax. They kind of leave you alone, mostly because it is in Lava Zone 1.”

“[It’s] a more genuine experience,” said Muftapha. “When most people come to Hawai‘i they tend to do commercial tourism… What we found was it was really a popular idea for people to be able to come feel like they are part of the land and part of the community.”

For more information about Cinderland and to find directions go online. To learn more about eco-communities on Big Island you can visit this website.

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