Affordable Housing – Going Forward

budget-158926_960_720Updated:  Had to fix a problem with my table.  The percentage of cost burdened households was way too low because I had an oops in my formula.  Also my totals for Monroe County were off.  All fixed now.  My point still stands – affordable housing is an issue throughout the Keys.  It might be somewhat more of an issue in some areas, but there’s no justifying a massive tax spill in the Lower Keys – as happened with wastewater funding.

Nice editorial on KeysNews.com:  Where do we go from here on housing issue?

They wrote a previous editorial that was a bit of mess.  This one’s much better – much more coherent.  It also offers ideas far more sensible than, “panic buy any apartment building that goes up for sale whether it makes any business sense or not just for the sake of doing something, anything“.

Some nuggets of wisdom from the new editorial:

Although there are many who believe that the private sector will eventually address the housing need and government shouldn’t get involved, that approach might be realistic in a different place, but it can’t work in the Keys. There are no nearby suburbs from which workers can commute. There aren’t large tracts of undeveloped land. The state limits on ROGOs, the limits on building heights, FEMA regulations for flooding and many other factors all create a situation unlike anywhere else in the continental U.S.

Therefore, normal market forces that typically allow housing supply to meet demand simply do not apply in the Keys. The reality is landlords cannot be forced to price rents at below-market rates nor are employers able to pay workers ever-increasing wages.

I must reluctantly admit this is true.  The market favors high dollar properties right now – transient rentals, luxury homes, etc.  Affordable housing doesn’t enter into the free-market equation at the moment.

Our governmental entities should actively create an environment that encourages private development of lower-cost housing, including zoning, building code amendments supporting construction of small, single units requiring one-quarter ROGO allocations, and loosening building height restrictions in certain areas must be considered. And crackdowns on illegal vacation rentals — even changing the rules governing short-term rentals — would go a long way toward freeing up available rental units for residents.

Yes, buying enormously expensive apartment buildings is not the only option.  Local governments have other tools at their disposal, and they need to use them.

Any discussion about addressing the housing shortage must also include the federal government and the military. By encouraging those stationed here to live in off-base housing, the Navy and Coast Guard are contributing to the lack of housing for the civilian workforce, including their own. Only the military has the available land and the resources of the federal government to help alleviate the crisis by building significantly more on-base housing.

Monroe County has a federal lobbying team.  Why not use that team to help, rather than hurt the taxpayers for a change?  Perhaps the Navy and the Coast Guard can be persuaded to do their part.

Considering that the military and Congress got us in the current situation with Peary Court by gifting the land along with the buildings to Balfour Beatty, and then allowing Balfour Beatty to keep the entire $35 million from the sale of the property and not holding them to promises of reinvesting that money in other local housing, the military cannot divorce themselves from its culpability in the local housing shortage.

Huh?  Is it true that Peary Court was gifted to Balfour Beatty?  How? Why?  Need more info.  (A helpful reader steered me to this news story.)

Providing affordable housing is certainly a daunting task.  It would be helpful if there were some competent, capable county-wide authority that could address the issue in a comprehensive way.  Unfortunately, no such entity exists.  All the Keys have got is the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).  The BOCC has proven itself incapable, incompetent and quite possibly corrupt with its handling of the wastewater projects.  How can they possibly handle the challenge of affordable housing?

Comm. Carruthers, while making noises that imply that she supports progress on affordable housing, is pushing a new sales tax that is financially damaging to local low-moderate income households already struggling with with the high cost of living in the Keys.  In Carruthers’s universe, affordable housing is just another opportunity to wring more money out of the taxpayers.

Let’s not forget that Carruthers, along with Kolhage, aggressively diverted every cent possible to the Cudjoe Regional project.  They overspent by $49 million so far, and the meter is still running.  And let’s not forget exactly who the lucky recipients of all this taxpayer cash were:  the unelected FKAA board, their contractors and subcontractors – most notably the Toppino companies.

In fact the Toppino companies made at least $9.5 million on the Cudjoe Regional project – a fact that the FKAA tried to bury.  Why would the FKAA lie?  Well because Richard Toppino, an officer in the family business, has recently been appointed to the FKAA board.  Not only that, the Toppino companies netted an additional $6 million on the Big Coppitt re-bid, another fact that the FKAA tried to bury.

Frank Toppino, Richard Toppino’s father, serves on the Key West Housing Authority board alongside Bob Dean, a long-time FKAA board member.  There’s money to be made on the affordable housing issue.  More precisely, there’s taxpayer money to be diverted and squandered on the affordable housing issue.  You can bet Carruthers, Kolhage and their crew will be all over that opportunity.

It’s important for the Keys community that the affordable housing issue doesn’t become the next great rip-off.  To avoid that, it will take information.  Lots and lots of information.

I used information found at American Fact Finder to assemble the table below.

Housing Burden_2014 ACS Estimates(3)

A household is defined as “cost burdened” if its housing costs exceed 30% of its income.  There’s one very important thing to point out:

The affordable housing “crisis” affects all areas of the Keys.  Very often, county officials will try to focus the rhetoric on a single area, presumably in an effort to funnel taxpayer money into certain projects, which disproportionately benefit specific individuals.  There is reason to believe that this may have happened with the Cudjoe Regional and Big Coppitt sewer projects.

I do not want to see the affordable housing issue used as a mechanism for the same sort of money transfer.  For one thing, the taxpayers cannot afford this continued waste.  For another, there is a real need throughout the community for affordable housing.  If the BOCC spends as recklessly on this matter as they did on the sewer projects, that need will never be met.

The taxpayers need to keep a close watch.

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2 Responses to Affordable Housing – Going Forward

  1. Pingback: Emergency Services Surtax – Stock Island | The Real Poop

  2. Pingback: The Blue Paper/Key West The Newspaper - Margaret Blank: Stewardship Act: Smoke and Mirrors -

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