The new Garden View apartments on College Road are fully claimed by tenants who were on a waiting list. An official ribbon-cutting will take place May 23. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

Affordable housing in Key West? Those words might elicit a chuckle as an oxymoron for those who have lived on the island for more than 15 minutes. 

Yet, the city is trying to meet the vital need for workforce housing. On Tuesday, May 23, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Garden View apartments on Stock Island’s College Road will mark progress in the efforts to provide local residences for low- and middle-income residents of Key West and the Lower Keys. 

“And then we’re hoping to start moving people in the next day, on May 24,” Randy Sterling, Key West Housing Authority director, told the Keys Weekly on May 15.

The $21-million, 66,000-square-foot project broke ground in 2019 and was funded by the Key West Housing Authority and built by local contractors Keystar Construction and Gulf Building. The 103 apartments are all one-bedroom, one-bath (each with a private balcony).

They will be occupied by people who applied and qualified or joined the KWHA’s waitlist late last year. 

Ninety-two of the units are for low-income residents, who will pay $1,321 per month. Eleven units for extremely low-income residents will cost $264 per month, Sterling said. Of those 11, six are reserved for residents with special needs who will be referred by social service agencies.

“We had 650 applications for 103 units,” Sterling said, commending his staff for poring through and validating hundreds of income eligibility forms and applications.

He also addressed some comments on social media that claimed children are not allowed in Garden View apartments.

“That’s not true,” Sterling said. “That would be a discrimination issue. Since all units are only one bedroom, we limited the number of people who can move into a unit at two. But if they then have a child while living there, it’s fine. They won’t be kicked out. And if a single parent moves in with a child and then has another, they won’t have to move out. But we also couldn’t have families of four or five people living in one-bedroom apartments.”

The tenant list includes local service workers, a probation officer with the sheriff’s office, a few city employees and many others, Sterling said.

The wait list for Garden View is currently closed, but could reopen in the coming months as everyone gets moved into the new apartments and comes off its waiting list.  

Garden View apartments were built by Keystar Construction and Gulf Builders and are operated by the Key West Housing Authority. MANDY MILES/Keys Weekly

The scramble for spots on the Garden View apartments’ housing list left a few members of the Facebook group Key West Locals with plenty to grumble about: “So, affordable is based on Key West rent, but salaries in Key West are not based on the rent. Actually we have some of the lowest (wages) in the state. That’s not ‘affordable,’” posted Julie Provey in the public forum. 

Others, who secured a rental lease there or mentioned an acquaintance who had done so, lauded the city’s efforts: “I have a friend who (was) on the waiting list for a while. Finally she is getting in and can’t be more thrilled,” commented Jeff Stateler.

The cost of buying a home or renting an apartment in Florida has risen faster than in most other states in the past decade. In March of this year, lawmakers in Tallahassee acknowledged the woeful lack of affordable housing in the state by passing a $711-million plan to incentivize new building projects, including offering tax breaks and interest-free loans to eligible residents. 

This dramatic shrinking of affordable rental options, which are often converted to more profitable vacation rentals, has left some Floridians — the Keys being no exception — paying rent that equals 30% or more of their income. Housing is considered affordable when it costs less than 30% of a family’s gross income, a formula the city of Key West says it used to calculate rent payments in the case of the Garden View development.

The new Garden View apartment complex is located at 5220-5224 College Road on Stock Island. The ribbon-cutting will take place at 10 a.m. on May 23.

Amy Patton is a recently transplanted writer from Southampton, New York, where she served for two decades as the culture editor for The Independent weekly in addition to her work as a correspondent for NY Newsday and the Sag Harbor Express. In short, she swapped her snow shovel for a beach chair in Key West.