Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Cheap Housing

A funny thing happened last week in the Lower Keys. The county planning commission, the people who advise the county commission the lawmakers that is, voted down a proposal to build affordable housing. You'd think it was a bad thing. Actually no, it  was in aggregate a good vote much to my surprise.
The plan was to put 160 units of housing on Summerland Key on apiece of land they call the Shrimp Farm just off Highway One. It's not a terrible spot you'd think,vacant and cleared of the old business, but for some reason the owner who also owns hotels in Key West decided he wanted to go all out and build 160 units of "affordable" living.
Of course no one really knows what "affordable" means to a multi millionaire developer...and wages aren't that great in the hospitality trade in Key West as a general rule, so the idea of creating houses for sale at prices workers could pay seems unlikely at best, maybe naive or maybe a confidence trick at worst. The planning commission wasn't buying. 
The neighbors were none too excited though that's to be expected as the general rule of thumb now is Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (BANANA) an acronym that supersedes NIMBY (Not In MY Back Yard). In this case I think they had a point as  an extra 160 families ona small handkerchief of land on a small island is going to create traffic and congestion issues worse than they already are. On top of that there is no clarity as to price and true affordability. So all the neighbors can see is more transient housing, more second homes mixed in with rentals and no affordability.
I was surprised by the negative vote but these developers don't give up and I'm sure there will be a less dense proposal soon with a clearer mixture of amrket rate (second homes) with a sop to affordability and eventually it will be approved in some form. Developers start out asking for the stars and the moon and whne you say no they then ask for the moon, you figure it's a huge victory you can exploit at the next election and tons more houses go up.
Unfortunately in these small islands we are running out of room and I don't mean that metaphorically. Now that Spring Break is over and the winter residents are gone we can all notice we have breathing room at the supermarket, lines on the highway are down. But the lines to get into Key West on the highway were extraordinary, and evertyone noticed and everyone grumbled.   It's true there is a lot more commuting going up and down between Big PIne and Key West as fewer workers can afford to live in Key West. But the additonal traffic from visitors and winter residents doesn't help. And the fact that lines have eased up now they are gone proves the point.
The hotels have been mumbling informally that visitor numbers are down. Online booking services say Trump's America is unappealing to Europeans at the moment. Perhaps Key West will get a respite from the hordes this year, perhaps not. Perhaps if the city does there could some rethinking about the lack of a plan or a vision for the future of this remarkable city set amongst these remarkable islands.