Workforce housing construction is currently underway in the Keys, but only two affordable housing permits are left in a time when many employees are unable to find inexpensive places to live. CONTRIBUTED

Can you say “affordable housing crisis”?

There are only two affordable housing building permits, a.k.a. ROGOs, left to be allocated in unincorporated Monroe County. Municipalities such as Key West and Marathon have their own allocations with a varying number remaining in each city.

Most of the workforce housing units currently being developed are in the Lower Keys, and the commissioners disagreed about which part of the Keys needed the units more. 

This discussion was prompted by Senior Director of Planning & Environmental Resources Emily Schemper’s presentation at the July 21 Monroe County Board of Commissioners meeting. The board members had asked her to give an update on the affordable housing Rate of Growth Ordinance (“ROGO”) allocation balance, and she detailed where in the Keys workforce units are currently being developed.

Turns out, most of the projects are in the Lower Keys, with 424 units in various stages of development, and the minority are in the Upper Keys, with just 29 units being worked on.

Commissioners David Rice and Craig Cates indicated that they were just fine with that. Rice noted that employees have been riding the bus from Miami-Dade County to their jobs in the Upper and Middle Keys.

“We’re bringing 850 people a day on those buses. … That’s caused me to wonder if we need affordable housing with the permits we have left,” he said.

“I think that’s going to be really helpful in the Lower Keys, all those projects,” agreed Cates. “Bringing in more people by bus in the Upper Keys is important.”

Commissioner Mike Forster felt differently.

“I respectfully disagree that we’ve met needs in the Upper Keys. I’m going to fight for affordable housing in the Upper Keys. … We need a deeper discussion,” he said. “To say everybody can ride a bus from Miami and say, ‘We’re good’ — we’re not good.”

In the presentation, Schemper said Monroe County has been slowly doling out 710 affordable housing ROGO allocations. That number is what was authorized by the state following its 2012 hurricane modeling results. Because Monroe County has been designated as an Area of Critical State Concern by Florida, building permit allocations are strictly regulated. The state uses hurricane evacuation modeling to determine the number of ROGO allocations.

Schemper detailed the 453 affordable housing projects that are currently in various stages of development: in Wreckers Cay, Stock Island, building permits have been issued for 280 units; in Dockside/Landings, Lower Sugarloaf, building permits are pending for 88 units; in Cudjoe Ocean Shores, building permits are pending for 22 units; in Sacarma, Cudjoe Key, building permits are pending for 14 units; in Southcliff Estates, Key Largo, building permits are pending for 28 units; in Big Coppitt, the Dickerson Group Inc. has requested 20 permits, subject to approval; and Habitat for Humanity Upper Keys has requested one building permit.

This leaves two affordable housing building permits left to be allocated in the unincorporated county. 

Resident Stuart Schaffer of the Sugarloaf Shores Property Owners Association questioned why so much development was going to happen in the Lower Keys. 

“Please direct staff to do a more comprehensive analysis of where affordable housing should be built,” he said.

“I’m not sure it would be a good use of taxpayer dollars to commission a consultant to do a study of the magnitude described,” responded Rice.

Schemper pointed out that the number of building permits left is a moving target. According to Monroe County paperwork, “Not all reserved affordable housing ROGO allocations have been issued building permits yet, so if an affordable housing ROGO reservation previously approved by a BOCC resolution expires, the affordable housing ROGO allocations reserved by that BOCC resolution would be returned to the county’s affordable housing ROGO allocation pool.”

Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines;; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.