by Kevin Diaz [candidate for State Representative, Dist,. 120]……
For many months now, we have heard our local leaders present the Florida Keys Stewardship Act as an amazing piece of legislation for Monroe County. However, there are many provisions within the Florida Keys Stewardship Act that put into question the purported positive impact of the bill. The Act essentially allows housing developers to build on environmentally critical land in our community. To top it off, it labels affordable housing as 160% of the median household income for Monroe County. That means we’re selling environmentally sensitive land so developers can make a profit, not so members of our community can afford to live in Monroe County.
It took many hours of reading Florida Statutes cited within the footnotes of the bill, as well as reviewing the initial proposed Act and all subsequent amendments, in order to uncover this very clever maneuver. In the interest of not putting everyone to sleep, I have inserted the statuary language within the footnotes.
First, within the Act it states that an additional 3,550 residential units may be constructed. Having this provision within an environmental protection bill seems strange. Why would we be allowing the opportunity for the addition of residential living units on top of environmentally critical land in a water quality bill?
Second, within the subsection labeled Everglades Restoration Bonds, it cites to Footnote 74, Florida Statute 253.034, which labels Capital Facilities and infrastructure improvement as some of the legislative goals of the Everglades Restoration Bonds. What does “Capital Facilities and Infrastructure” mean? Within the surtaxes section of the Act, it labels affordable housing as infrastructure. How can affordable housing be an infrastructure need included in this bill, when the purpose of the Act was to receive capital in order to further treat our water concerns and better protect our environmentally sensitive land?
Third, the Act creates a mechanism to sell environmentally critical land. The bill cites that the building of affordable housing is a critical state concern. With this language the State has officially labeled affordable housing as a critical state concern and the land authority is authorized to sell off land in order to achieve that goal.
While I agree that affordable housing is an issue our community needs to address, it should not be at the expense of our environmentally sensitive land. It especially should not be permitted just to allow developers the ability to sell or rent units for ridiculous prices. Under this Act, the price point for what is deemed as affordable housing is for someone that earns nearly $100,000.00 year. In what world is that affordable? I was shocked when I read the State could sell off our environmentally critical land to build housing, but when I saw that it was not even affordable housing, it helped to reinforce the thought that maybe special interest groups got their way again.
In my analysis of this Act, the Florida Keys receives $5,000,000 in guaranteed funds, and in exchange the State of Florida receives the power to sell off environmentally critical land in order to build residential living units for people that make nearly $100,000 a year. As a community we need to begin looking deeper into the Florida Keys Stewardship Act and determine whether this Act needs to be rewritten completely.
 Florida statute 253.034 states “Short-term and long-term management goals shall include measurable objectives for the following, as appropriate: (1) Habitat restoration and improvement. (2) Public access and recreational opportunities. (3) Hydrological preservation and restoration. (4) Sustainable forest management. (5) Exotic and invasive species maintenance and control. (6) Capital facilities and infrastructure . . .
 Subsection Discretionary surtaxes states “[a]ny land acquisition expenditure for a residential housing project in which at least 30 percent of the units are affordable to individuals or families whose total annual household income does not exceed 120 percent of the area median income adjusted for household size, if the land is owned by a local government or by a special district that enters into a written agreement with the local government to provide such housing.”
 Within the subsection labeled Purchase of Lands in Areas of Critical State Concern it states “ [i]n carrying out the purposes of the areas of critical state concern program, the land authority is also authorized to: [a]cquire and dispose of real and personal property or any interest therein when the acquisition is necessary or appropriate to . . . provide affordable housing to families whose income does not exceed 160 percent of the median family income for the area.