Feb 122016

affordable housing protesters

by Naja and Arnaud Girard…….

A one-room efficiency for $1,836/month, a one-bedroom for $2,097, a two-bedroom for $2,358. Those are the “affordable” rates that will prevail for the rental of 70% of the 213 affordable residential units the County Commission has approved for a Big Coppitt Key waterfront development project. Those rents are defined in the code as “moderate-income affordable.”

According to Barton Smith, an attorney for developers Frank and Edward Toppino, the project is simply not feasible unless the developers serve the people in the moderate-income affordable category.  Unfortunately, the proformas that back up that statement were not shared with either the Commissioners or the general public.

By creating a moderate-affordable housing category, the County has basically allowed “affordable housing” rental rates to rise to the market rate level. Developers are now building homes for people who legally qualify for “affordable housing” while making up to $73,440 a year [for a single person].

The starting salary for a Monroe County school teacher can be as low as $45,300 a year. For local law enforcement it’s around $47,000. Under federal HUD [Housing and Urban Development] guidelines, workers, like those teachers, police officers, and other local government employees, are excessively cost burdened when rents are over $2000 a month.  They should be paying 30% of their salaries – for a new teacher that would be around $1,100/month.

Speaker after speaker at last Wednesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting in Key West told the story of losing employees who had come to the Keys, had good jobs and great expectations but who had to leave after just a few months due to the high cost of rent.  No question – everyone agrees – we have an affordable workforce housing crisis on our hands.

The affordable workforce housing issue could soon become especially dire on Big Coppitt Key.   The County is in the process of changing land use regulations on nearby Rockland Key to allow for big box stores, possibly a Walmart, to open on US 1. Walmart recently raised its employee wages nationwide to $9.00/hour; two-thirds of Walmart’s employees made less than $25,000 last year.

A review of the new zoning code that will allow the Big Coppitt affordable housing development to occur is perplexing. The new zoning is called “Mixed Use Commercial” – the most coveted category in the code. In this case the MU zone has been specially tailored just for this project and a list of prohibited uses aimed at diminishing the negative impacts on the adjacent neighborhood have been added. Transient rentals and non-residential uses are prohibited. The list initially included the words “no new marinas,” but that language was removed and a provision allowing for “accessory uses to the residential development” was added.

It appears there may be very little, if anything, that would keep the developers from adding docks as “accessory uses.” Could they end up with a development similar to Sunset Marina, or Pritam Singh’s development at Oceanside, both on Stock Island?

Nothing in the new zoning code compels the developers to offer the units for rent.  The County does have an affordable housing sub-category called “employee housing” that requires tenants (or purchasers) to be persons who are earning at least 70% of their income in Monroe County – but that requirement didn’t make its way into the new zoning law that governs this project. Legally, any of the units, including the other 30% that will be very low-income to median-income range, could be rented or sold to snowbirds or others who do not participate in the workforce, as long as they meet the income level requirements. The current sale price for an moderate-income affordable unit, under the County’s current rates, can be as high as $528,300.

big coppitt google earth

In the end the County will have authorized the development of an enormous shopping center and an [up to] 213 unit housing project that Big Coppitt residents say will turn their sleepy little waterfront neighborhood into an area with “quadruple” the density it once enjoyed.

Will this new development become a hot spot for wintering retirees? Will it be turned into condos with waterfront “accessory” docks and other structures such as a clubhouse/restaurant, and will the units, in fact, not be rented at all, whether low, median, or moderate-income – but rather sold?

So far, the pattern in Monroe County has been for private developers to sell the new residential units they build, not rent them.

The County has only 710 affordable housing ROGO units to allocate – and the state says that’ll be it -– forever – due to hurricane evacuation requirements. It seems that developers are now gobbling them up, building a lot of “moderate-income affordable” units which are, in fact, not affordable for most of the workforce and very few low and median-income units that would truly help to alleviate the current workforce housing crisis.

“Other developers are also going to want a high amount of moderate,” said Commissioner Sylvia Murphy, who along with the rest of the Commissioners, after 3 hours of debate, ultimately voted to allow the zoning change last Wednesday. “Stop and think,” she said, “We will have no more affordable housing allocations and yet we will have gained very little truly affordable housing. Moderate[-income] housing is not truly affordable.”


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 February 12, 2016  Posted by at 1:12 am * Featured Story *, Naja and Arnaud Girard  Add comments

  29 Responses to “Monroe County: “Affordable” Housing for the Rich”

  1. Most of us ” Get paid in sunshine ” Stay too long and get burnt out. Working 2 or
    maybe. 3 jobs, unless you work for various government entities, doesn’t give you much of the good life here. There’s always another dreamer coming down US 1 willing to work a while for $ 10 an hour when you have nothing left and can’t sustain it anymore. Seen it for years and years.

    • Same here – has been going on the entire 31 years we’ve been here. We were only able to make it because we were business owners and lived on boats. But now we are hearing that even those government workers you speak about aren’t sticking it out. Do so wish the government would put some energy into a serious needs analysis. We hear that population has declined. How many rental units have been converted to single family second homes over the past decade? How much growth in business has there been? Do we have far more workers? What is the need at each level of income? Our most recent needs analysis says for rentals we have a SURPLUS in the “moderate-income” level. That’s the level the City and County are approving the bulk of new “affordable” units at. Also the level that the proforma sent to banks for purchase of Peary Court outlined. 2 bedroom apartments for $2358. How many people at Peary Court would rather have a one-bedroom but just couldn’t find a decent one?

      • Again, trying to create units at certain levels or price points is impossible. Just create units! If the local units of government would work to create an atmosphere that encouraged creation of residential rental housing units then the buyers would end up matching the sellers. When there is a glut or a lack of units vis a vis the number of renters, then the price and earnings ratio gets crazy out of balance.

        It ain’t rocket science–when the price rises or falls, you can easily spot the imbalance.

        Short term fix would be for government to encourage higher wages by giving modest tax breaks to employers who pay at a certain (higher) level. Employers jump at the chance to participate in such a program.

        • Before a developer builds rentals they must first look at what the market needs. In the case of KW it is low priced units and that is 1 bedroom or even just 1 room studio units. Most of your workers are couples or singles. Lets not forget much of KW houses where single family homes to start with. Many are nearly 100 years old and some got turned into bed and breakfast or into homes that rented out bedrooms to help pay taxes and the high cost of living.
          Take a good look at the history of one of the largest single family homes just off Duval st . Yes the Curry mansion and are many others.

          So lets get a fix on the real needs of the low paid workers and they need priced based on 30% of income made on 40 hour work weeks at that $10 an hour rate. That is about $500 a month. They can’t even rent a couch in someones home for that.

          Many are even willing to work 60 hours just to enjoy 1 day a week in Paradise. How long would it take someone that comes to KW with the idea of getting a job and live here only to find they will need 2 jobs just to barely make it. They don’t get time and a half because employers learned how to beat that law years ago. Most jobs are created by the needs of tourists and they usually are able to pay some rather steep prices food , drinks and lodging. Is there not enough profit in that to pay a living wage ?

          Yes take a serious look at just who is living at Peary Court and how much they earn. They are not $10 an hour workers.

          And while we at this stop and think who picks up the tab for any housing that is not paying property tax. Yes it is the rest of them property owners that did not get that break. So if KW buys Peary Court the lost taxes will be made up by others.

  2. A couple really does not need a huge place to live. Many live in travel trailers or motor homes. Real shame that KW does not even offer cheap RV spots. As a frequent visitor what we have found is that it is just as cheap to rent a room at a bed and breakfast for our 5 or 6 weeks a year as it is to even rent a bedroom at a house in old town. We are basically retired and would love to find a room monthly to rent and at most live in it half of the time. Finding such a place that is not a fire trap is not likely. And to rent a 2 bedroom for $2500 is just foolish. We love KW but it has priced it self out of reason short of accepting something in the hoods.
    Not everyone wants a 2 bedroom place. A simple studio apartment with small kitchen is all many need. That could be 300 to 400 feet. Many workers would be plenty happy to rent such a thing and would be affordable.

    Employers seem to like what they have going for them. Someone saves up a few thousand and heads to KW , finds $10 job and can last a few months before going broke. On the north way out of the keys they pass the replacement headed south.

    They just want high profits and could care less about the workers. Are a few exceptions but not many.

  3. OK, I think most here agree the problem is low wages and nothing even close available based on 30% of income even if they work 60 hours at $10 hour. At best if 2 people both have 60 hour jobs and share a 2 bedroom place or a couple find a 1 bedroom apartment by the time they pay for utilities they still are far over 30%. Now add to this that everything else from gas and food to other basic needs will be about 10 to 20 % higher. So just how are they able to last long ? Are they living in cars ? Even if they live on Wisteria island it would not be easy. Does anyone even care about helping them ? Developers seem to know how to get approved to tear down and redevelop what little is left. The trailer park on Simonton st should never been allowed to be removed. Sure the rent was low and ran down. That was a smart developer that first allowed the tenants to let it look trashy so would be easy to get it voted to be torn down. Property values in last few years went crazy and simple fact is not affordable for any investor to build affordable workforce housing. What little is left is 1 by 1 going away because the building is too old to be repaired or bought up by the rich as either a second home or just turned back into a single family home that it was to begin with when built.

    Only cure I can see is the city building some very small units on property it already owns. But clearly nothing is even planned. They are only interested in helping with the moderate income workers that earn 75 K. They can find plenty now with no help from the city.

    Employers do not care enough to help create housing or willing to pay a living wage.

    So question is what will it be like in another 5 years ? Will KW reach a point where tourism fails for the lack of service ? The city itself will find a shortage of workers but at that point will raise pay by raising property tax.

    If nothing changes will it continue by simply finding new workers that come from the north and last a few months by living off of savings ? How much savings will they need ? My guess is about a thousand dollars per month to make up for what they can’t earn. That comes to about $5 an hour more pay is needed. Is that too much for employers to pay a worker ? Would $15 an hour break them ?

    It is too late to go back in time 30 years and fixed the problem. Does anyone even have a suggestion to fix the problem ? Can it continue the way it is now ? Will the day come that people from up north check the situation out before giving it a try ? Or is using savings just a way to enjoy a longer vacation in KW ? Maybe 5,000 will let them live here 6 months. Sunshine alone is not worth it if no time or money to enjoy it.

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