The Windley Key affordable housing project in Islamorada progresses. JIM McCARTHY/Keys Weekly

While the pandemic might have slowed the building down, Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys’ housing project on Windley Key is still progressing. Completion is expected this fall with families and individuals moving into their units hopefully sometime around October. 

Jack Niedbalski can’t wait for that day when the keys are turned over to new homeowners and renters at Windley Key. The Habitat for Humanity’s executive director emeritus, Niedbalski has seen the project go from concept to reality. 

Located at 84771 Overseas Highway, across from the OV and north of Theater of the Sea, the project features a 12-unit building and a four-unit building on the property. In total, there are eight units for homeownership and eight for rental. 

“Obviously, our timeline was put on delay because of what happened with what’s going on in the world. It certainly affected us and impacted our ability to get our volunteers to come and do their work, which affects everything because it affects the other subcontractors to come and finish their work. We were hoping to be done by May or June.”

Some 3 feet of has been placed with the concrete laid and structures up. Underground electrical wire was laid and windows were installed. Niedbalski said more infrastructure work commenced on July 27 as the project moves along. Units are two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath townhomes with parking underneath, concrete floors, walls, metal roof, solid wood cabinets impact doors and windows.

“There’s still things we have to do like hook up like air conditioners. The places are going to have electricity in two to three weeks” Niedbalski said. “We’re probably 80% finished inside the 12-unit building and we’re 65% complete on the four-unit building.”

Families have already been selected for the ownership units. Now, they’re working through the Habitat process of putting in sweat equity and ensuring their financials are up to date. As for the eight rentals, Niedbalski said they’re still taking applications for anyone interested and needing an affordable place to live. 

“Right off the bat, there’s 16 more affordable housing opportunities for 16 more couples, families and individuals that weren’t there before, especially in an area like Islamorada where it’s not often that you get that many opportunities to fall in line under the affordable housing guidelines,” Niedbalski said. “These units are pretty nice. This is not just ‘let’s build real cheaply and make it an affordable housing project.’

“If you work in Islamorada or the Upper Keys, you know what it costs to live here,” he continued. “Real estate is unbelievably red hot right now, which is driving pricing up and making it more expensive to live here. People who are moving into these units are going to feel really good locking into a rate much lower than they ever could have.”

Those applying for homeownership are evaluated based on their percent of monthly income spent on housing. Niedbalski said they follow the 30% rule, so those spending 30% or more of their income on housing will be considered. Also, if a person or family’s total annual income is at or below 80% of the median income for the Upper Keys area. 

Several players were integral in getting the project off the ground, including Monroe County and  the village of Islamorada. The village owns the land, for which Habitat for Humanity is leasing for a period of 99 years. It’s also deed restricted to ensure it always remains affordable housing. 

“The village council was huge,” Niedbalski said. 

Building a 16-unit affordable townhome-style complex has been no easy undertaking. It’s been a rather enormous learning curve for Niedbalski, but all in all, a worthwhile endeavor to assist everyday workers who reside in the Keys and need an affordable place to live. 

“We’re an affiliate that builds a couple homes a year usually,” he said. “And now, we’re building 16 there at Windley, we broke ground on four more in Key Heights and we’ve got two or three other deals we’re working on where we have active permits. We went from building two homes a year to where we’re looking at 22 to 23 homes in the next two to three years. It’s a huge adjustment for us.”

To learn more about Habitat for the Upper Keys and its current projects, visit www.habitatupperkeys.org/projects.

Wells Fargo donates to Windley Key housing project

Wells Fargo Foundation has awarded Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys a $15,000 grant for the Windley Key affordable housing project. The funding is part of an $8.1 million donation to Habitat for Humanity International for capacity building and direct mission support to build, renovate and repair more than 350 affordable homes across the United States. 

The program, Wells Fargo BuildsSM, is part of the Wells Fargo Foundation’s $1 billion philanthropic commitment to create more housing affordability solutions by 2025. 

“We’ve had a rich history of working with Habitat for Humanity to strengthen our neighborhoods through philanthropy and volunteerism,” remarked Wells Fargo Foundation. “Safe and stable housing enables people to build upon the rest of their life and, together, we can shift the narrative to help others understand that housing affordability is both an economic and humanitarian crisis that’s taking a toll on millions of people.” 

Wells Fargo Builds provides philanthropic financial support from the Wells Fargo Foundation to support the construction, renovation, painting or repairing of homes with low-to-moderate income households. In 2019, Wells Fargo team members volunteered more than 1.9 million hours on 674 homes across the United States through the program. 

“We are thrilled to have partnered with the Wells Fargo Foundation. We hope that this is just the start of the relationship, and that we will continue to partner for years to come,” said Lindsay Fast, executive director for Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys.

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