Aug 072015


Dear Editor,

We need sufficient wages for all workers, not cheaper housing for a select few.

It is my opinion that establishing perpetual subsidized housing has consequences. One known is that those properties will not be on the tax rolls. Another consequence is that subsidized businesses and workers will be at a competitive advantage to those unsubsidized. It just is not fair. Nor is it a sustainable long-term solution.

Not being able to live where one works is a problem. … A real, everyday, no-bull issue. Long commutes, wasted time/energy/resources and lack of family time to name a few are huge costs. People leaving the Keys for the (ugh!) mainland disrupts our economy, schools and neighborhoods. Stable/established/trained/happy workers are a huge benefit to the fabulous Florida Keys. This is a special place and it costs more money to live here than the mainland. Higher wages to offset the higher living costs is the solution the marketplace would normally provide. Subsidized housing corrupts the business ecosystem.

I think we need to endure the pain of losing workers until businesses pay the required wages to allow those workers to return or remain. I know it is easier said than done. And it would disrupt families. businesses, schools and the community. Families being forced to move away and businesses being forced to pay is painful. It is an awful cost to have to endure this transition for all. The net result is that some families and businesses will be traumatized in the short term. And long term it will cost even more to live here.

In the long-term “change is our friend”, despite its unpleasant and cruel process. I believe that if we had not had affordable housing mandated by past laws. We would be enjoying higher worker wages today. The longer we wait for the business ecosystem to stabilize, the more extreme the eventual correction or continued interventions will be. I also believe that it is unfair to subsidize the wages of some businesses to the disadvantage of other businesses.

David Mitchell


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 August 7, 2015  Posted by at 12:30 am Issue #126, Letter to the Editor  Add comments

  7 Responses to “Sufficient Wages Would Help Keep Workers Here”

  1. You are partially correct. From a business owners view they pay as little as they can and we all see the results. They never keep dependable quality help long unless they pay above average wages. What I believe is going on is mostly younger people that save up a few thousand dollars and move to KW. They then learn real fast that the cost of living is crazy and they can not make it with just one job or 40 hours a week. In a few short months they are broke. Others are able to accept low wages because they have other income from pensions, social security and other income from other sources. Tax payers are helping with government housing. It all comes down to supply and demand. Any land owner in KW wants as much income as they can get and that is why 100 year old conch houses are being bought , refurbished and even rebuilt then sold for a million. Take a long hard look at at the trailer park on Simonton st. Take a look at how low income housing got turned into million dollar rentals. It could have been stopped but was not. We will likely never see a solution in KW because unlike other wealthy areas there is no near by town within an hours drive for workers to live. Have a look at what a bedroom with a shared bath costs in KW and add to it the cost of eating. At some point you will not be able to find workers. Then and only then will wages go up.

  2. Jimmy, Your comment is well taken. Down thru the years, it has always amazed me how business owners actually create much more hassle for themselves than it is worth by trying to pay or treat their employees as lowly as they can. I’ve lived here for 42 years and have done all kinds of jobs. My first job was at Logan’s Lobster House, which was a thriving business at the end of Simonton St. where the S-Most on the Beach now stands. The owner, Stu Logan, made tons of money and was perpetually miserable because he paid the least he could and got what he paid for. If he treated his workers better he’d have still made tons of money and would have been infinitely more happy. Most businesses in KW operate like that. The exception to this was at what used to be called The Hukilau, a Polynesian style restaurant where Advanced Urgent Care now is. Alan Merrill, the owner, when he found good help always made it worth their while to stay. My first wife worked their for years, as did many of her co-workers, and the business made lots of money and ran smoothly and easily. Most owners never realize it is worth their while to pay more in order to have a more rewarding life.

  3. I have no solution to the problem KW has as to low wages. What is unfair is some housing goes tax free because of public housing or loop holes such as a private church that is really nothing more than a free tax ride. The real property owners are picking up the bill. In reality tourist are making up for poor wages. It is a slow process but by paying above normal rates for a motel / bed and breakfast places it is the tourists picking up the high taxes. KW depends far too much on tourists. Only the rich can really enjoy living full time and afford what Duval St has to offer. The others manage to survive by working 10 hour days 6 and sometime 7 days a week. Do not have the exact numbers but am sure many that try to make a living in KW fail and likely not even last a year. The exception is the ones that manage to qualify for public housing such as Bahama Village. Am sure many are paid under the table and has been mentioned here often are drug dealers. Wages have been low for many years in KW and will not be changing anytime soon. As long as someone will work for $10 an hour they will not pay more. And if they leave some other fool will take the job. Is no shortage of people wanting to live in KW as it is Paradise. How long they last is up to them. Some manage by scamming tourists with taking a picture of a dog in costume or of a bird. Tourist often spend foolish amounts.

    In time wages will raise but so will the cost of living. Low wages are the price tag to live in KW. When the voters get tired of it they can make it change.

    Part of the solution is creating low cost housing but other than government who would ever care to get in that business ? And yes them tax free places are at the cost of others that pay taxes.

    Would love to hear any suggestions on fixing the problem.

  4. Jimmy, If we leave aside any kinds of scams or subterfuges used to get into public housing, those who do so need not pay any more in taxes. They already pay plenty in sales taxes and other various and sundry fees our society demands. Their primary contribution is the work they do for poor wages, work that is essentrial for the life style of those rich people you feel are getting cheated. They contribute to our society just as much as the next guy, even if taxes are not how it is extracted from them. Do they deserve a fancy car or beautiful home? No, but they deserve more than what their wages can provide. Good discussion, it really gets to the heart of the matter. ciao, Jerome

  5. Would it be legal for a city to create a min. hourly pay ? We visit KW very often and our stay does depend on workers of all type to not only serve our food, drinks and clean our room but also requires all the trades to keep the buildings and city safe and clean. In a city such as Key West with such high rent it just is not right to be paying min wage or even $10 an hour. Even at $15 it would be very hard to live on a 40 hour week. Will assume most play the game of 32 hours to avoid paying all the benefits.
    Perhaps low wages is the price tag to live in KW. Maybe a handful make $200 a day but most earn far less and work 60 hours or more. What is the point in living in KW if you don’t have time or money to enjoy. So just what would be a fair wage for low end type jobs ?

  6. Jimmy, Some cities have already created a minimum wage (S.F., Portland) around 15$ an hour. Its legality has not been challenged. Most employers play no game at all here. They provide no benefits and their workers probably work 50 hours a week or more, or work more than one job. I know in Hawaii, where most of the locals (and I mean native Hawaians) who work in the tourist-hospitality industry are unionized, they have always made a liveable wage that has stabilized their community for decades. From what I’ve seen, none of that has hurt Hawaii’s competitiveness in the tourist business.

  7. The real problem that I see is that a young couple with both working 50 hours each has no chance in hell of ever buying even a small older house in KW. They will end up working 40 years or more and still be paying rent. They will work till they die and end up with nothing. Now even 20 years ago they might have had a chance but with the market price of even old Conch houses they would find it hard to buy anything under $300 k and they could never afford the mortgage payment, insurance and taxes. Investors are the only buyers. So is it wise to even try to live in KW ? How will they ever be able to retire.

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