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Key West referendum

Key West voters: Take a deep breath. Vote yes on 3.2

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

01/11/2022

Vote yes.

If you don’t live in Key West and you’re not a registered Key West voter, you’ve got my blessing to skip the column. If you’re a Key West voter wondering whether to check yes or no on the 99-year lease referendum, check the yes box and drop the ballot at the Supervisor of Election’s office downtown (corner of Southard and Whitehead, catercorner to the Green Parrot).

If you want to know why Ranger Ed and I voted yes on the referendum, read on. And, then, either get your ballot to the supervisor’s office if you’re voting by-mail/absentee asap or get to your precinct polling place 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 18.

(Wondering why you didn’t get a ballot in the mail even though you always vote by mail? Call the Supervisor of Elections office or check your ballot status on her website. You may not have realized you have to update your status what with various changes in Florida election laws over the past couple years. On the same website page, you can update your information, request ballots, read the referendum question and find your polling place.)

Let’s start with the referendum itself: Shall the Naval Properties Local Redevelopment Authority of the City of Key West (“LRA”) be authorized to lease real property of approximately 3.2 acres at the Truman Waterfront, for a period of up to 99 years, exclusively for affordable workforce housing?

What we are NOT voting on:

  1. We are not voting on how the affordable workforce homes will look.
  2. We are not voting on who gets to buy or rent the resulting homes (although anyone buying or renting must meet the legally-defined financial and income restrictions for affordable workforce housing.)
  3. We are not voting on traffic patterns, parking or environmental issues.
  4. We are not voting on who will build the affordable workforce housing project.

Those questions and solutions will be part of the public discussions and workshops once the city and potential developers, like AH Monroe, with its long and successful track record of doing good in the city and building affordable housing, get the voters’ go-ahead for the 99-year lease.

Be patient. You’ll get your chance to grouse and suggest improvements. For now, let’s not muddy the waters with a litany of unrelated, albeit perhaps important, what-ifs and what-abouts.

So, in Key West what ARE we voting on?

We are voting to give the city the authority to extend to developers of affordable workforce housing a 99-year lease on 3.2 acres of vacant, formerly Navy land on the perimeter of Truman Waterfront Park and next to the new multi-use recreational field. Potential developers will need a 99-year lease to qualify for funding and grants to finance the project. (Don’t start. Private developers will not go it alone on affordable workforce housing. Public-private partnerships, like Housing For All KW, will get the job done.)

Hugh's View Skyline Key West

City ordinances often limit leasing of city property to 10 years, which means limited availability of funding and grants. The referendum creates an exception. (Frankly, the city needs to revisit that 10-year thing; it’s costing local not-for-profits in lost grants. But that’s another story for another day.)

The referendum is narrowly crafted. The lease is for affordable workforce housing. Period. It’s not surreptitiously going to become a Nouveau Truman Annex. OK, maybe at the end of 99 years, when the lease gets renegotiated, things will have changed, but not in our lifetimes.

State, federal and local rules tightly control what income and finances qualify. Income limits are not randomly pulled from the proverbial thin air. One’s eligibility is determined by a third party, not the city and not the project developer. Your household income includes everything everyone living in the house earns and such things as Social Security income, pension income and savings accounts.

For this project, it would be something like this: Two Bahama Village residents, one a school teacher, the other a cop or firefighter, with no kids and no other income might have a combined household income of $81,400. They could purchase one of the two-bedroom loft homes in the project for about $320,425. Rental units will be similarly affordable.

The words “affordable” and “workforce” when applied to Key West’s exorbitant real estate market encourage rolling eyes and disbelieving words. Too often that gets in our way because some of the loudest among us want 2022-level incomes and 1992-level rents and home prices. It’s not going to happen.

It doesn’t take much expertise to understand how hard it is to live in Key West when only five kinds of people can afford to live here. I wrote this in mid-2018: “Two things happen when home prices tickle heaven’s gate. Investors gobble up houses and toss them into the vacation rental pool. And, regular folks – the working middle class – can neither buy nor rent a place to live. Here’s what we’ve got: Hundreds of former family homes rented to snowbirds for three or four months, which then sit vacant or rarely used for the rest of the year. What most certainly would have been long-term rentals for the island’s working families are no longer accessible.

Homes like those proposed for the 3.2 acres are a sound, smart start to re-building a stable home market for the island’s working families. The more secure our working families, the stronger our local economy. Let’s don’t let our burgeoning, 21st-century cynicism — or our esthetic arguments over paint colors — get in the way of doing the right thing. We need that 99-year lease to put us on the right path. Vote yes. Please.

Correction: Post has been updated to correct the location of the Supervisor of Elections’ office. I was so wrapped up in spelling “Parrot” and “catercorner” correctly that I totally moved the office a half mile east. Sorry. The office is at Southard and WhiteHEAD.

2 Comments

  1. Fred & Judy Bowen

    We do not live in Key West, but to us, it’s the “regular folks” that keep us coming back. Not fans of speculators. If we could we would vote yes. We hope everyone does. Good luck and we’ll see you soon.

    Reply
  2. Kathy Kirwan

    We travel down to stay in the Keys frequently. I’ve always wondered how the waiters and support people can afford to live there as there never seemed to be any affordable housing. I sure hope this passes and they truly become affordable to the people who work in the tourist industry.

    Reply

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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