December 1, 2017
The Monroe County Commission was divided Wednesday on what tweaks to make to its land regulations in order to help solve the biggest issue currently facing the Florida Keys — workforce housing.
After meeting all day, a majority of the commission agreed to move forward on a series of comprehensive land management plan and land development regulations and strategies designed at encouraging and speeding up the development of worker housing projects in the unincorporated areas of the county.
The very old acute-squared affordable housing crisis was exponentially exacerbated by Hurricane Irma. It will take a year, or more, won't it?, to amend the county's comprehensive land plan and get that approved by the State of Florida? Meanwhile, what is the County Commission doing about the acute-squared-cubed affordable housing crisis? Perhaps just as important, what has the County Commission been doing INSTEAD? (Same question for the Key West City Commission)
Rarely did the [county] commission unanimously agree on any of the proposals during its all-day meeting that focused on housing, which has become an even bigger issue now that roughly 1,000 homes in the Florida Keys have been destroyed in Hurricane Irma and thousands of people and families have applied for housing assistance from FEMA.
The proposals, which will be modified by planning staff and formally voted on later, included increasing density by as much as 50 percent for certain areas and for certain projects that cater to lower-income levels. The density bonuses would not only allow more units to be placed in the Keys, but increase profits for developers who want to build affordable housing projects, commissioners said.
Developers have long maintained that they cannot make money on new affordable housing they build, and therefore they need to be given substantial financial incentives to built it. If the financial incentives are factored in, the developers end up building market rate housing, which is subsidized by the taxpayers. The county (and Key West) own a good bit of land on which affordable rental housing could be built by the Housing Authority, which then would manage it, just as it built and managed affordable rental housing in the past, and still manages it in the county and in Key West. That housing, too, is subsidized by the taxpayers, but for less money, because the land is owned by Monroe County or by Key West, so there is no land cost. Also, that housing is not for sale but is only for rent. Developers prefer to build housing that is sold. Then, after it is sold, begins the game of the owners renting it out on the sneak at market rates and pocketing the difference between the rent and the mortgage payment, taxes and insurance.
Suglarloaf Key residents Bill Hunter and Stuart Schaffer and Key Largo resident Dottie Moses questioned the impact of increased density on the more rural areas of the Keys. 
Bill Hunter recently announced he will run in 2018 for the District 2 County Commission seat held by 5-term commissioner George Neugent. Bill has attended county commission and other county government meetings for years. He is well-versed in county government workings and politics. He lives on Sugarloaf Key, right in the heart of District 2. Neugent lives in the tiny gerrymandered part of District 2 in Marathon, above Seven Mile Bridge. Gerrymandered solely so Marathon could have 2 county commissioners like Key West has, even though Marathon's population is far less than Key West's. An issue in the 2018 county commission races should be to put that gerrymandered land into District 4 and make District 2 run from below Seven Mile Bridge down through Big Coppitt Key. Here's a link to the Monroe County Supervisor of Elections voting districts:


Other proposals also included eliminating some public meetings and meetings between developers and planning staff.
Er, what does this mean, exactly? Eliminate what public meetings? Make those meetings private instead?  
The changes will only be for two years following ratification and only for workforce housing projects. Those caveats did ease some concerns by not only skeptical commissioners but residents who were concerned about increased density and projects being fast-tracked with little time to be scrutinized by the public.
Er, with only a 2-year window, developers will stamped to fast-track.
Lower Keys resident Steve Miller passionately spoke about the need for workforce housing, arguing little has been accomplished in the 14 years he has closely followed the issue. Miller urged the commission to take a stand on workforce housing and stand up to vocal NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard).
“Take the bull by the horns,” Miller said. “You are going to tick people off. It is a problem that has to be addressed now.”
Mayor David Rice commended Miller and said “we need that conviction.”
What you and the other 4 commissioners need, David, is the conviction to build affordable rental housing on land the county already owns. You do that by partnering with the Housing Authority. You bypass developers, which have to make a profit on what they build. You cut out that "middleman". Save money. Provide what the poor people in the Florida Keys need.
The commission also discussed going after grant money for people who want to raise their homes out of the floodplain and purchasing small modular homes to be placed on county-owned land and rented out or sold to local workers.
I do not think the county government should be providing grants to private citizens to raise their homes or for them to become private developers. I do think the county government (and the Key West government) should be putting small modular hurricane-proof rental homes on government land, operated by the Housing Authority.
The commission heard a presentation by home builder Jim Sounders about placing small modular homes in various areas of the Keys. The homes are built to withstand 185-mph winds because they are built with hurricane impact windows and siding, along with metal roofs.
If purchased at cost, the one-bedroom units can be constructed for $93,000 and two-bedroom, two-units for $107,000, according to estimates, Sounders said.
Great idea, Jim. Let the Housing Authority do it on government land.
tohara@keysnews.com