“Affordable Housing”: Are the Wolves at the Gate?

(c) Can Stock Photo / iiievgeniy

by Arnaud and Naja Girard…….

On January 30, 2018 the Monroe County School Board voted to vacate the parcels of land it owns on Trumbo Road. Their goal is to assist with the workforce housing crisis.

One of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the Keys, the 6 acres of waterfront property in downtown Key West, could be transferred, for free, to developers.

Under a proposal put forward by Key West’s multi-millionaire, John Padget, developers would then build 480 “affordable” studios and one-bedroom apartments to be rented to “key-employees.” What are “key-employees”? Under state law they are anyone a county or municipality declares to be “essential”.

Does this deal pass the smell test?

Here’s the question: Should the School District use its properties to assist in the housing crisis or should the School District use its resources for the education of children?

In the past, the Trumbo property supported vocational training programs; something every candidate for School Board champions… while campaigning.

For you Blue Paper readers we have crunched the numbers and reviewed the data. Here’s what we found:

Extravagant Cost to Taxpayers

The School District’s administrative offices and school buses are currently located on Trumbo Road. The plan is to build a new school bus terminal on Stock Island. The Board has already spent $3.2 Million, pre-construction, just to purchase an adequate piece of land. As a reference, the construction of the new terminal for city buses on Stock Island, completed in 2016, cost over $9 Million. The larger terminal required for the District’s school buses and ballooning construction costs could drive the relocation cost over the 10 million price tag. Finally, if the relocation of Key West’s City Hall is any indication [$18.8 Million], the total cost for relocating the District’s administrative offices could be in the tens of millions.

And then there is the value of the land set to be generously ‘given away’. The Trumbo Road property is probably one of the most valuable buildable pieces of land in the County: Over 6 acres of prime waterfront property in downtown Key West. Peary Court, which is much larger but not waterfront, was sold for $60 million.

By the time the Trumbo Road property has been passed over to a ‘benevolent’ developer, the cost to the District, taxpayers and students could be $30 Million in relocation costs plus the loss of an extremely valuable asset.

480 Over-priced Rental Units on Trumbo Road

As we’ve reported many times, “affordable” housing in Key West is, for the most part, market rate.

Under the most profitable use of the City’s mix-and-match affordable housing ordinance, developers can rent 87% their units at the “middle-income affordable” rate (today that means one-bedroom apartments for $2,576/month and studios for $2,254). The other 13% would be rented at the “low-income affordable” price is (one-bedrooms for $1470/month and studios for $1286/month). At these rates, if every unit were rented at its allowed maximum “affordable“ rate, the landlord would gross over $1 Million/month; $13 Million per year. [See the 2017 rental caps HERE and here is an example of a lawful breakdown for the proposed “Porches” project.]

Padget’s plan also calls for the City to wave density, parking and ROGO[BPAS] requirements as well as height restrictions.

School Personnel Surveys Show One-bedroom Rentals are Not in Demand

The School Board’s reasoning for giving away the Trumbo Road property has been that housing costs in the Keys are driving good teachers away. Last year 14 teachers reportedly left the Keys for this reason. We obtained a list of those teachers and began contacting them.

One of them is Karen Doyle. She was a Stanley Switlik 1st grade teacher. She’d worked for the District for 26 years. Ms. Doyle had recently separated from her husband and they’d had to sell their house. She told us she tried renting but decided it just made no sense to throw her money away each month. Even though she loved her job in the Keys, she relocated to Fort Myers where she could afford to buy a home.

Nicholas Carton, a former fifth grade teacher at the Key Largo K-8, told The Blue Paper he left because he found an administrator position in a school in New York. He also said that his plan includes home ownership rather than longterm rentals.

It appears that teachers, like most professionals who settle down, want to buy a home for their family. In an employee survey conducted in February of 2007, 57% of the 617 employees responding were found to own their own homes. A January 2018 survey shows that a majority of school district employees who do rent require 2 or 3-bedroom apartments. Of the 264 employees who responded, only 30 said they would be interested in renting a one-bedroom apartment. When asked if a 1/1 apartment would interest them if it rented for $1500/month, 75% said they would not be interested.

Yet the proposal which is making the rounds and getting head nods from government officials, focuses on high-priced, small-sized rental units: studios and one-bedrooms.

So why would the School Board consider giving away such valuable land [and spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to relocate] in order to build housing units that its own employees don’t want or need?

The Big Prize

Before Hurricane Irma, School Board members met at an “administrative retreat”. The fate of Trumbo Road may have been decided there. Interestingly, 3 months after Mr. Padget made his project public, his concept of renting to “key-employees” was adopted by the School Board in their January 30th resolution.

But developers flying long circles over the School District’s land on Trumbo Road is hardly a new sighting. In August of 2007 the School Board selected a bid proposal by Ed Swift, Conch Train owner and developer, for an affordable housing development on Trumbo Road. Like today, the District entertained the idea of giving Trumbo away for free ($1/year rent for 99 years).

Swift’s project was much better adjusted to the teaching community’s needs. But that plan seems to have disappeared in the “hurricane recovery” feeding frenzy. It may be difficult in the near future to distinguish genuine efforts to assist the community from opportunistic attempts to exploit disaster-related insecurity, seeking free public land and blanket waivers of any restrictions or regulation of large-scale developments.

While the School Board plays monopoly, Monroe County’s high schools have a graduation rate of only 79%; lower than the state average (and much worse for minority students) and the Trumbo Road buildings, that could be used for a desperately needed vocational training program, are on the slab.

SEE RELATED: Monroe County’s Secret Roadmap to ReSegregation




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3 thoughts on ““Affordable Housing”: Are the Wolves at the Gate?

  1. Thank you, Arnaud and Naja. I look forward to the commotion stirred up in the hen house, caused by this article.

    I ran for school board in 2012. I found the school board, and the superintendent, were deeply resistant to creative solutions and change.

    At a city commission meeting following Hurricane Irma, I told the mayor and commissioners, who were talking about the need for a lot more affordable rental housing for local workers, including teacher, police, fire & rescue, I said I’m all for that, but forget about doing it for teachers. That’s the school board’s job. It has the land and the money to take care of its teachers’ affordable housing needs. It seemed to me that the room stopped breathing.

    There are several large old Navy quonset buildings on the Trumbo school district land, which need to be razed. There is room there for a lot of actual affordable rental apartments, as well as keeping the school buses there. The same people who design and build the schools could design and build the affordable rental housing. The school board could partner with the housing authority and manage such housing.

    The American dream of owning a home has, except for the rich, gone the way of the dinosaur in Key West and the Florida Keys. The school board knows that. Teachers who live down here know that. If teachers feel they must own their own home, they can realize that dream on the mainland, unless the city and the county governments, and the school board, make local developers deals they cannot refuse, to build the equivalent of Habitat for Humanity-priced housing for resale. Even though, what is needed far more is heaps more actually affordable rental housing for lower and low income workers and pensioners.

    Instead of the school district courting teachers who want to own a home in the Florida Keys or Key West, the school district should court teachers who are adventuresome, who really want to live here and blend in with this funky place, instead of try to remake it into something like where they came from. This ain’t the mainland. This ain’t ever going to be like the mainland

    The city owns about one-acre of land on Trumbo Road, adjacent to the school district’s land, right in front of the very high end (multi-million) Steam Plant condominiums Ed Swift developed and sold off. A good bit of low and very low affordable rental housing, managed by the Housing Authority, could be put there. At one time, soon to be city commissioner Margaret Romero, now mayor candidate Margaret Romero, promoted putting the city’s new homeless shelter on that one acre.

    Word has it that John Padgets’s proposed 480 over-priced rental units will have no parking. I love that idea. Make the tenants all walk or ride bicycles or city transit buses wherever they have to go. Cause them to get rid of their mopeds, cars and trucks. Clean up the city’s air congestion a little and reduce its motor vehicle traffic congestion a little. Move out of the dinosaur (fossil fuel) age a little. Then a little more.

  2. Pee–yooooo! This school board deal stinks. My first reaction is to wonder for WHOM is Mr. Padget fronting? This proposal sounds like it is beyond both his income level and technical expertise. This will be a high-end waterfront development in “Paradise” and not an affordable housing handout like he is pretending.
    My second reaction is WHY are the school board members being developers’ lap dogs by giving them some of our prime public property? We pay them good money to go to a one-hour-meeting once a month, you’d think they’d be obliged to do their best by us. I guess they think they’re cool when they brown-nose the big shots, on, and with, our dime.
    This big-ticket scandal is a playground for investigative journalists. Please don’t leave, Blue Paper.

    1. Based on the Key West Citizen reporting, John Padget said in the beginning, and continued saying, that he did a lot of work coming up with the proposal, but someone else would have to do it and he would not be a part of it. I have a friend who knows Padget, who said Padget meant what he said. Of course, here in the land of nothing is what it appears to be, time tells what is so and what is not, if the two are in plain view.

      I hope all blue paper readers share your sentiments,about the blue paper sticking around, but it don’t mean shit if they and you don’t match those sentiments with giving money given to the blue paper.

      Maybe John Padget, who is quite rich, I have heard, will give the blue paper a bundle to publish another year.

      A former superintendent of our schools, perhaps he is grateful for how the blue paper outed the HOB principal, the superintendent of schools, the school board, KWPD and the Key West Citizen, which, but for the blue paper, would have had nothing to white wash in its fake no guns in school report yesterday, 2/16/2018. Maybe Padget is so grateful what he bundles the blue paper annually.

      Shameful, the Citizen said the story was broken by another publication, but did not say it was the blue paper.

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