The miracle of the “five loaves and two fish” looks a little different in modern-day Marathon. It looks, in fact, like buying a condemned 16-unit apartment complex, completely rehabbing it and setting affordable rents; like somewhere around $800 or $900 a month. 

That’s exactly what the St. Columba Episcopalian Church in Marathon is undertaking. It’s a fearless approach to a daunting problem — private, charitable ownership of affordable housing available to the public. Rev. Debra Andrew Maconaughey said the church has set a goal of welcoming tenants about four months from now.

“When I get worried about the details of this project, I just tell myself, ‘You have to have faith, Debra,’” she said.

The church is setting out to raise about $400,000 to rehab the units. The buildings have already been gutted, revealing healthy “bones” — solid concrete construction, concrete barrel tile roof, and indestructible terrazzo floors that have been buried under layers of flooring for years. 

“The floors are going to look great when we get all done with them,” said Rick Kidwell, disaster recover coordinator for St. Columba. 

There are four units to a building (two up, two down), and the buildings face each other across a communal space that will be completely landscaped. Each unit is about 525 square feet with wide windows with a combined kitchen-living room, a bedroom, a closet, and a bathroom. The old pool will be removed to make more room for parking, and there are plans to develop an additional building into a shared communal space with some patio tables and umbrellas to the side. Everything inside the apartments is going to be new.

“New windows, new plumbing, new electric and new Ikea kitchens,” said Maconaughey. “The kitchens were arranged for by a group called Bridge to Hope.”

The complex is located at 1655 Overseas Highway and includes a little corner shop directly on the highway. Plans are to make it into a thrift store specializing in baby goods. In place of the Nearly New Thrift Shop in Gulfside Village Plaza? “Oh no, we will continue to operate that one, too,” Maconaughey said.

Of course. So, in addition to regular church services and functions, St. Columba will manage affordable housing, two thrift shops, year-round after-school care, special youth summer programs, be the title sponsor of the annual Florida Keys Celtic Festival, and continue its heavy involvement in the KAIR food pantry and crisis center, and the Independence Cay home to get working adults back on their feet. 

“We are not afraid to take on big ideas.” — Rev. Debra Andrew Maconaughey

The church has always responded to the community’s needs, especially under Maconaughey’s direction. But the idea for creating its own affordable housing grew out of its response after Hurricane Irma struck the Keys in 2017. The church became an informal housing authority of its own — with 22 trailers, plus bunks in the auxiliary building and, when push came to shove, air mattresses in the parish hall. 

“At first it was displaced residents living in the donated, rented and purchased trailers,” said Kidwell. 

“But as they moved out, we brought volunteers in,” said Maconaughey.

This past week, American Red Cross volunteers were staying in the auxiliary building. Next week, it will be Habitat for Humanity volunteers.

Maconaughey guesses they’ve housed about 2,000 volunteers since Irma. And their hearts are filled with success stories — people who lost everything but are now back on their feet, contributing members of the Middle Keys community.

This church, which does so much for the community, now is asking for something in return — donations. Please call 305-743-6412 or email [email protected] with offers of help.

 

Win a whole house!

To help raise funds to repair the affordable housing complex, St. Columba Episcopal Church is raffling off a refurbished “tiny home.” Tickets cost $250 each, and only 1,000 chances will be sold to win a entire house valued at $80,000.

The winning ticket will be drawn on the final day of the Florida Keys Celtic Festival on Jan. 13, 2019. Winner need not be present to win.

The home was donated to the church by a member of the Holy Sacrament Episcopal Church in Pembroke Pines, whose congregation was instrumental in helping the Middle Keys community after Hurricane Irma.

The 456-square feet features a full bathroom, kitchen and appliances, two decks, bedroom and a spare loft. 

“About the only thing it needs is a stackable washer and dryer,” said Rev. Debra Andrew Maconaughey.

The winner will be responsible for securing transportation, lot, and meeting all the local and state regulations regarding installation, and elevation. The unit is currently on Loggerhead Lane, across from the main church building.

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