Friday, July 5, 2019

beautiful Florida Keys remain threatened by greed, development and politicians

A Key Largo amiga posted a letter to the editor from a Key Largo amigo about the state of the Florida Keys:
Free Press 7/3/19 Letter to Editor: Workforce housing a ruse for overdevelopment Our state and county governments, in concert with a steady stream of avaricious developers and twisted administrative overseers, have reached a regrettable agreement that will deliver a deathblow to the fragile aquatic ecosystem upon which we’re dependent for life.The insidious double-talk, deceptions and insanity, comprising the rationale chosen by those in positions of leadership to continue with over-development pursuits that scarify our tiny string of islands, exhibits a recklessness and malfeasance that defies all established science.The annals of scientific discovery have continued to warn Florida Keys residents that persisting in their overdevelopment practices, no matter what the justification, will diminish and eventually kill off the quality of life standards we’ve worked so hard to maintain, while turning “paradise” into a wasteland.An article in Forbes Magazine titled “Don’t Rebuild The Florida Keys” by University of Chicago law professor Omri Ben Shahar points out the tropical dangers inherent with our geography and the fact that most homes and structures are built near sea level. In “Sciencing,” an online textbook, author Terri Schab, a biological chemist researching ecosystems and biogeochemical functions, concludes that more humans and more tourists invariably destroy natural habitats.In Key West the estimated population is 26,990, a population density of over 4,819 people per square mile (Wikipedia).Our small tract of island land in the Florida Keys comprises an area of 137.3 square miles. Deliberately smashing, leveling and putting to waste precious parcels of our sensitive environments, so someone else can get rich from it, while we wallow in the aftermath of their destruction, are savage acts against humanity.Cramming as many substandard and hastily constructed homes that can be built onto the smallest parcel of land has been enthusiastically pursued by the above described partnering entities with a wink and a nod, as long as the misrepresented and fraudulent identifiers are christened “affordable/workforce” housing. The established hoax behind these terms has become clearly evident. Squeezing people together in densely compacted developments and housing projects with their many vehicles and visitors, lacking any appropriate “green space,” is incongruent with one’s happiness and survival.
John Donnelly, Key Largo

  • Jim Doran Although I agree with premise of this letter, I sincerely ask how do we provide affordable housing to our teachers, first responders, and support/service workers? The only
    solution I can see is to pay the people critical to our community a salary tha
    t will allow them to buy our highly priced homes so they can be part of our community and not just migrant workers. Are we ready to cough up the taxes needed to do this for the public sector employees and pay the higher prices needed to provide our service workers with a liveable wage? This conundrum that has plagued our slice of paradise for many, many years yet we still have not found a solution.

    • Sue Heim Jim Doran - before the "how" comes a mandatory question - if we build it will they come? I ask that alot when I talk to upper Keys workers. Mostly the answer I hear is no, for many reasons. So for the upper Keys it's basic problem definition. Is any housing needed and if so, how much. A KW resident believes the same question needs to be asked to define the scope of the need there. Will a KL worker move to mm30 to live with lower rent when they can live north? Nobody knows. Until sufficient evidence is available to support the "need" in each Monroe community, mass housing development is a developers excuse to build. As to salaries, again, problem definition. Let's get creative about lowering rents.; Let's offer landlords incentives to reduce $1800.monthly to $1100. monthly. And there's the core - political will. Why would the county want to incentivize lower rents? FYI, Playa Apts, built as workforce housing (affordable) 1bd/1bath $1795. 2bd/2bath $2035. Are those rents affordable housing? Creative is moving away from current HUD income guidelines to develop more Monroe specific income guidelines. Again, political will. The county had an affordable housing cmttee, made up of developers, appointed by BOCC, who are blinded by $$$. The more they bring in the more they can spend. But that's a whole new conversation. And of course the other affordable question, "being a home owner'. Is it the county's responsibility to provide houses people can afford to buy? Raising salaries while an option, is part of the increasing expenses cycle. In Alaska, pr-pipeline, bread 50 cents, shoes $5. Post pipeline after influx of cash and and human naturw - greed, the bread seller increase to $2 bcz new rich rsidents could pay it, but shoe seller could not, so shoe seller incresed shoe prices. I keep re-reading your last comment, and smile. Bcz the great equalize mother nature may solve the housing problems for us, eventually ..... ::))

    • Jim Doran When I started teaching at KLS in 1971 housing was expensive compared to salaries even then. After renting for two years my wife and I bought a new 2 bedroom, one bath house in Largo Sound Village for $25k however I only made $5,400 as a new teacher. Even then we needed two salaries to afford to live in the Keys. When we decided to buy a house the bank was very supportive and gave us a low percentage and required only a small down payment because we were teachers. They considered us a good risk as we had continuing contracts and we were a necessary part of the community. As a professional with a college degree I wouldn’t want to live in low income housing, however if, as a young teacher, I could rent a decent apartment at a reasonable price so I could save for a down payment I would be happy. There are plenty of vacant places whose landlords only rent short term for the higher rents. So incentives, i.e. lower tax rates for landlords who rent long term may be a partial solution. Lower mortgage down payments or down payments provided at no interest by the district, the county, or the municipalities who hire teachers and first responders, incentives to new hires, etc. may help. As there are plenty of vacancies building our way out of the dilemma is not the best way forward. Instead we should be utilising the housing that is already available and support those who provide vital services.

    • Sue Heim yes, but at least up here, to what end? problem definition has to be part of the conversation, also, your generation is not this generation. low-income housing is not considered an option now-a-days.

    • Jim Doran I agree and wouldn’t want to live in low income housing, but renting a decent place should be possible. Even back in the 70’s single teachers often shared an apartment. What we need is a way to use the housing that is available.

    • Sue Heim agreed - with an edit - "currently available". iin the end, this is a capitalistic situation and the marketplace - and greed - prevail.
    • Sloan Bashinsky Agreed. John Donnelley's letter reminds me of my mantra in the 2006 county commission race against Incumbent George Neugent. "No more new development, period, the end. The Florida Keys already are way over-developed, and there is no one living here who can look in a mirror and honestly argue otherwise” I recall attending a Monroe County Workforce Housing Committee meeting in Marathon early in that race. County commission candidate Sylvia Murphy and citizen activist Kay Thacker were there. Citizens were not allowed to ask questions or comment. Committee member Ed Swift, a real estate developer and owner of Historic Tours of America (conch trains and trolleys in Key West), tried to take over the meeting. It looked to me the entire purpose of the committee was to help developers build more housing in the keys, guised as affordable workforce housing, but it wasn't really affordable. I was really upset when I left that meeting. Driving back to my place on Little Torch Key, I was called by Alyson Matley (now Crean), who was the Keynoter's Key West bureau chief. She wanted to interview me about my views of development and workforce housing. I told her about the meeting. She said she would do an article. The published article didn't look like what I had told her. Alsyson told me it got changed by her bosses at the Keynoter. There was nothing she could do about it. I had been in love with the keys since I was 14 and our family stayed a week in March at the funky laid-back Ocean Reef Club on Key Largo, which today is anything but laid back and funky. When I was in college, my father bought a home at Mile Marker 76, Lower Matecumbe Key. I fished the flats around Islamorada for decades. I watched real estate developers anticipate the new, bigger waterline from the mainland, buy up land and subdivide it and cut canals, and sell lots. At that time, no one could tap onto the old waterline, because it was maxed out. After the new waterline and the new bridges and wider U.S. 1 were built, development exploded in the keys. I was on Big Pine Key in January 1995, when I read in the Keynoter of business interests wanting to widen U.S.1, to bring in more tourists. The next Keynoter issue reported federal agencies had nixed it, because of the threat to the environment. A building moratorium also had been put in place on Big Pine. The local business interests were quoted as saying they wanted the road widened to save lives during hurricane evacuation. That was their reason all along, not to bring in more tourists. I told all of that and much more during the 2006 commission race. At a candidate forum on Key Largo, I met Ron Miller, who told me of chaining himself to the Jewfish Creek Bridge to protest widening US 1 there. A federal judge got really mad at him. I laughed. I was running as an Independent. My campaign was word of mouth. I spent no money on campaign advertising. However, I did give money for a lawyer to defend Seahorse Trailer Park residents on Big Pine from being evicted by a developer, which not long after went bankrupt. I got 1/3 of the votes cast in a 2-candidate general election. Four years later, I got 1/4 of the votes. By then, I had pretty well given up hope that Mother Nature would be put first in the keys. I got embroiled in trying to figure out how to build actually affordable rental housing, mostly. That turned out sad, too. The so-called affordable housing was not affordable to poor working stiffs. The same happened in Key West, where I ran for mayor 6 times. I think it was maybe in 2015 or 16, that Ron Miller told me the silt resulting from cutting the canals and building roads and residences in the upper keys drifted out to the reef and occluded the water and the micro-organisms on which the corals fed, which depended on sunlight to survive, started dying, and the reef then followed suit. I don't see a solution today. Other than hurricanes. The main victims of which are the people who can barely afford to live in the keys.

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