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IN THE NEWS / NEWS ARTICLES ABOUT KEYS HOUSING ISSUES...
Keys projects get $13M from state
BY TIMOTHY O’HARA
Key West Citizen
A state housing board has approved allocating roughly $13 million in funding for three affordable housing projects in the Florida Keys. The Board of Directors for the Florida Housing Finance Corporation, last week, unanimously approved three applications to fund the development of affordable housing projects in Monroe County. The board approved $2.6 million in Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) and $10.4 million in State Apartment Incentive (SAIL) program dollars to specifically fund affordable family housing developments in the Florida Keys, according to corporation spokeswoman Taylore Maxey. Florida Housing received three applications to build affordable rental housing in what the corporation called “the county hardest hit by Hurricane Irma.” The board initially approved allocating funding two of three projects, but roughly $2.8 million more was made available to fund the third project. The corporation agreed to set aside funding for 55 units at 4900 Overseas Highway in Marathon and 47 units at a development called Marty’s Place on the corner of Bertha and Venetia avenues in Key West. The additional $2.8 million allowed for the funding of 46 units at Crystal Cove in Marathon. “Florida Housing’s Board took decisive action today to further assist those impacted by the hurricane that struck in Monroe County,” Trey Price, executive director for Florida Housing Corp., said in a prepared statement. “We are grateful to the governor and Legislature for providing additional affordable housing dollars that are targeted in this area to continue our commitment of providing safe, decent, affordable housing to the citizens of Florida.” Florida Housing’s Executive Director and senior staff traveled to Monroe County following the hurricane last year, toured the impacted areas of the Keys, and met with state and local officials to assess damage and housing conditions. The funding comes as Keys elected and business leaders have declared a worker and affordable housing crisis in the Keys. Monroe County government and local municipalities have started several proposals to make it easier to build worker housing and in the case of the city of Marathon, ask the state for 300 new additional Rate of Growth Ordinance (ROGO) units, which are needed to develop empty lots in residential units.
Board backs lower rental rates on affordable units
BY SCOTT UNGER
Key West Citizen
In the latest of several steps to address the affordable housing crisis, the Key West Planning Board unanimously approved lowering the maximum monthly rental rates for affordable units. Maximum rental rates for workforce housing are based on Monroe County Annual Medium Income (AMI), which was $68,700 for a family of four in 2017. Using that formula, released annually by the Housing Authority of Key West, workforce rental rates are capped at 30 percent of household income for different AMI categories. The planning board resolution changed that limit from 30 to 25 percent for low (80 percent AMI), median (100 percent AMI), moderate (120 percent AMI) and middle (140 percent AMI) income categories. “The (city) commission had felt that the maximum rental limits were closer to market rate and so this is an attempt to, across the board, lower those rental rates from 30 percent to 25 percent,” Planning Director Patrick Wright told the board. The changes will take between $200 and $400 off the maximum rental rate that can be charged, depending on the income category and household size, according to city documents. For example, a single person in the low-income category renting an efficiency will see maximum rents drop from $1,286 to $1,072 monthly. A four-person family in the moderate-income bracket in a three-bedroom home will see maximum rates drop from $2,757 to $2,298 monthly, according to city documents. The change is the latest in a series of steps to address the workforce housing crisis that was exacerbated by Hurricane Irma. Board member Greg Lloyd endorsed the latest change. “In my opinion this is another step in the right direction in terms of making affordable housing more affordable for those that truly need it,” Lloyd said. “I applaud this effort.” The board previously approved zoning changes to city-owned parcels on College Road in anticipation of an estimated 104- unit affordable housing project. In February, the board approved changes to the city’s Land Development Regulations to emphasis affordable housing over green building initiatives in future Building Permit Allocation System applications and eliminated transient unit allocations from the remaining approximately 700 BPAS units the city will receive through 2023. The change to maximum rental rates will need approval from the city commission and Department of Economic Opportunity before taking affect, according to Wright.
Six months after Hurricane Irma, Florida Keys residents still scrambling for affordable housing
Published 3:41 p.m. ET March 9, 2018 | Updated 2:22 p.m. ET March 11, 2018
Excerpted Article (see Link below for complete article)
A lack of affordable housing was a problem throughout the Keys long before Irma hit. Ever-increasing land values forced working-class residents to move farther from their jobs or to abandon the Keys completely. Irma, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm Sept. 10, exacerbated that problem, damaging or destroying more than 1,000 mobile homes and RVs — the last remaining options for low-income workers.
Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent said the limited housing and high prices could force up to 20% of the island's 73,000 residents to pack up and leave for good. "There was a housing shortage before the storm, there was a crisis the day after," said Marianne Cusato, an affordable housing designer working on a project in the Keys.
Questions surround state, government aid
Many residents wonder why the government hasn't done more. The Federal Emergency Management Agency paid $62 million to Monroe County residents, part of which went to temporary rental assistance. The agency paid for hotel stays for nearly 3,000 families in Monroe over the past six months, and 218 people still use that program, which ends Sunday.
An additional 195 families stay in travel trailers. Although FEMA wanted to shut those down by June 1 — the first day of the 2018 hurricane season — spokesman John Mills said the housing crisis forced the agency to allow families to remain in those trailers longer.
"We are mindful of some of the unique challenges in the Keys when it comes to available housing, especially for those survivors who’ve been hardest hit," Mills said. "That decision is not being made lightly, because it would be advisable for people to live in a more suitable structure during hurricane season."
There are issues at the state level as well. The Legislature is on the verge of approving a budget that includes $15 million to construct workforce housing in the Keys. Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, said that number was lower than she'd hoped for because legislators redirected housing money this year to mental health programs in the wake of the massacre at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
The county government has few options. Officials held hearings to hear what residents face in their desperate hunt for homes. The ecologically sensitive Keys allow only limited development, and land values continue to increase, so there's no easy way to create affordable housing on a large scale. "We can't win this," said Neugent, the Monroe County commissioner who is based in Big Pine Key, a couple of miles from where Irma made landfall. "All we can do is try to do the best that we can."
Residents come up with own solutions
Fed up with what they described as a lackluster response, many Keys residents have taken matters into their own hands.
The Rev. Debra Maconaughey bought travel trailers and crammed them on the lot of St. Columba Episcopal Church on Marathon. She allowed families to stay in them for three-month stretches to give them time to get their lives in order. She's taking the next step and negotiating to buy an 18-unit apartment building and rent units at subsidized rates. "We knew right away that the cavalry wasn't coming, so we became the cavalry," Maconaughey said.
Maggie Whitcomb, a philanthropist who lives part-time in the Keys, takes a different approach. Her family put up $1 million to start the Florida Keys Community Land Trust. The trust buys vacant properties throughout the Keys and will build homes similar to the 3,250 "Katrina Cottages" that went up in Louisiana and Mississippi after that storm.
Cusato, the designer who spearheaded the Katrina project, is designing "Keys Cottages." The first three are scheduled to go up in June to show what the 760-square-foot, elevated, hurricane-proof homes will look like.
She said the trust is using only private money, but she hopes for government assistance as the program moves forward.
"(Irma) created an opportunity for people to rally behind and say, 'Let's figure this out,' " Cusato said. "They've been struggling (in the Keys), so how can we use this very sad thing that happened to help solve this problem?"