COMMUNITY LEADERS QUESTION TRUMAN WATERFRONT HOUSING PLANS

The development group called The Lofts at Bahama Village submitted renderings of the housing it plans to build at Truman Waterfront. CONTRIBUTED

Key West officials and residents have been planning workforce housing on “the 3.2 acres at Truman Waterfront” for nearly 20 years, since the Navy gave the waterfront parcel to the city. The housing has always been intended to benefit the surrounding Bahama Village community.

At their Nov. 16 meeting, Key West city commissioners discussed the top two housing proposals from groups that responded to a request for proposals. One came from Bahama Village at Fort Street LLC, which includes architect Bert Bender, who designed early housing plans for that space nearly 20 years ago, and Habitat for Humanity, whose sole mission is affordable home ownership.

The other proposal came from The Lofts at Bahama Village, which includes developer Vestcor, the Smith Hawks law firm and AH Monroe, which also has built several successful affordable housing communities in Key West.

A ranking committee composed of community members and city staff gave The Lofts group that includes AH Monroe a higher score than the Fort Street group that includes Habitat for Humanity.

The city commission voted on Nov. 16 to uphold those rankings and pursue negotiations with The Lofts group. Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who represents Bahama Village, and Mayor Teri Johnston both dissented, instead favoring the Fort Street group’s proposal due to the lower housing costs and number of units that would be available for ownership rather than rentals. Residents of Bahama Village have repeatedly told officials they want more opportunities for ownership rather than rentals.

Community leaders in Bahama Village are now questioning the commission’s vote to pursue The Lofts group’s proposal despite its higher costs and half the number of owned units.

“In the ranking committee’s scoring sheet, one category was about housing costs, unit mix and rents,” Johnston said on Nov. 16. “The Fort Street proposal is providing lower-cost home ownership and yet the committee scored the Lofts proposal higher in that category.”

When she asked committee members to explain, Steve McAlearny, in the city’s engineering department, said he gave more points to the Lofts group because their proposal includes 10 more total units, but he did acknowledge the Fort Street group’s lower cost and additional ownership units. 

The Fort Street group, with Habitat for Humanity, had proposed 30 ownership units. A 2-bedroom home would cost about $183,000 with a monthly mortgage payment of about $998. The same size home under The Lofts proposal would cost $215,000, or $1,446 per month.

The vote that favors The Lofts group has perplexed and disappointed some Bahama Village community leaders, including Yolanda Mingo, who sits on the Bahama Village Redevelopment Advisory Committee, which represents the interests of that neighborhood.

The BVRAC on Nov. 4 voted to uphold the ranking committee’s scoring, but Mingo told the commission on Nov. 16, “I know we’re up against the clock, but I’m not comfortable with what was put before me at the BVRAC meeting. Had I known then what I know now, chances are I would not have voted the way I did.”

Another Bahama Village activist, Charles Major, also said he has a bad taste in his mouth about the proposal that was selected, not because he has anything against AH Monroe, he said, but simply because of the costs to Bahama Village residents.

“I’m not going to let this go away quietly,” Major told the Keys Weekly on Nov. 22.

Johnston also spoke with the Keys Weekly on Nov. 22 and echoed her concerns about the scoring disparities in the category that ranked each proposal’s housing costs. 

“Both organizations — AH Monroe and Habitat for Humanity — are impeccable, but I thought the Fort Street met the needs and the ask of Bahama Village.”

Johnston ended the conversation by saying she’d welcome a partnership between AH Monroe and Habitat for Humanity. “I’d love to explore the possibility and legality of that.”

Although the community has waited nearly two decades for that housing, some in Bahama Village say they’d be willing to wait a little longer if it would mean lower costs and more opportunities for working residents. We’ve likely not heard the last of this discussion.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.