Monday, May 31, 2010

Stadium By Night

When NPR's Morning Edition runs a story telling everyone housing is affordable in Key West, you get the idea that perhaps that as little as Conchs may know about the world outside, the rest of the country doesn't really have a clue about daily living in the Keys.The story goes that housing is cheap enough ordinary people can afford to buy. "Ordinary people" in this context are people who depend on paychecks to pay their bills, which in Key West tends to make them extraordinary. Stadium Trailer Park is one of four trailer parks in Key West that provide sort of affordable housing in the city limits.Stadium apartments resemble nothing quite so much as emergency military housing erected to meet an immediate need, but because this is Key West a temporary shelter has a tendency to become permanent by some form of economic osmosis it is difficult to classify.Like so many communities that are desirable as vacation centers the credit boom of recent memory persuaded a great many people they too could afford to actually own a house in the Keys, land of American Title Companies, English as one of the major languages (Cuban-Spanish and Creole not far behind with Uzbek coming in stronger all the time) and the US dollar for currency. Why buy in Antigua or Belize or even Costa Rica when you can have sunshine all winter and have the ability to read the newspaper in the local language?So the trailers have become more or less affordable in a town that has done a remarkable amount for people who need shelter. key West has everything, from free air conditioned tent dormitories on Stock Island known as KOTS- Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter, which is as temporary as any other accommodations, to acres of public housing scattered around town including conversion of military housing deeded to the city notably at Poinciana Housing and years ago George Allen apartments off First Street.
Stadium is the largest trailer park, with I'd guess a hundred and fifty lots on it, judging by the numbers assigned to the trailers/ It is a community unto itself and you would be wrong to think this is anything other than a community of working people. People who think they want to move to Key West often wonder if there are good or bad neighborhoods and they call the Police Department to ask. I tell them in Key West it's all down to your neighbors, this is a city with trailers on lots next to multi million dollar homes and the size of one's income doesn't measure how nice a neighbor you will be.For some people the biggest disadvantage of a trailer is that it is patently unsafe to sit out a hurricane in one. The most severe damage from hurricanes tends to come from tornadoes embedded in the storm and everyone knows that 200 mile-an-hour winds cause damage. They wipe trailers and their residents out completely. Live in a trailer and prepare to evacuate, to a friend's more solid apartment or ride the city provided buses to shelters on the mainland. The picture above shows Glynn Archer Drive heading north toward North Roosevelt Boulevard. Glynn Archer is known in Key West as 14th Street, it's old name, which is just one of those confusions that lurk everywhere in the Southernmost City to trip up newcomers. On the left there used to be Poinciana Elementary School which was replaced by the "new" school across the ball park on Kennedy Drive (13th Street, as was though nobody calls it that!). All that's left of the old school are the bus shelters, Dali-esque roofs eccentrically covering the sidewalk.The school zone is long gone.
A trailer makes an affordable home in a town where 1200 square foot cottages were routinely selling for $700,000 dollars. Even today to find an "affordable" home through a short sale or a bank repo you have to plan to plunk down at least a quarter million for a fixer upper and if that is affordable I think the term once again needs to be re-defined. Remember too that homes in Key West don't always come with the amenities you might expect. I have seen homes with no foundations, with sketchy roof-to-wall connections, no insulation is normal, even in this heat and bedrooms are the size of closets. Double glazed windows? Ha! Central air? Not likely! A garden? Maybe... and off street parking? Only for full price, please. The office below is a concrete block structure on the edge of the park which stretches all the way behind Publix and Sears to the north and the park goes east toward Mariner's Cove on Northside Drive. Mariner's Cove was an apartment building designed to be affordable for people connected to making their living from the sea, though whether it still is I couldn't say.I guess trailers here are pretty much like trailers everywhere else, rows and rows of them and as usual not too many trees in a working a person's neighborhood.This trailer was for sale for $12,000 though that doesn't buy the land on the lot which costs several hundred dollars a month to rent. Hope the neighbors are easy to get along with if you buy.
Stadium is almost a town within a town and it takes police officers ages to learn where the various trailers are. Most have numbers, some have letters and a few have double letters to mark their lots. It is a warren.This is Northside Drive along the northern edge of the park looking toward Sears and Publix on the left. Not everyone lives in a wooden 19th century house in Key West. If you want a tourist free home this is the place to come.
For thoughts on the economy this Memorial Day Weekend: