The first three Florida “Keys Cottages” are set to break ground at the end of the month in one of the hardest hit areas in Big Pine Key, the Avenues.

“We really wanted to see this vision through in the Keys,” said Marianne Cusato, designer and developer of Katrina Cottages, a type of FEMA-funded housing that popped up in Louisiana and Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina.

The 760-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom homes in the Keys project are in the permitting stages and set to break ground by the end of the month. Completion of the project is projected for June.

“The speed at which these are planned on going up is essential,” said Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent, who through nonprofits Florida Keys Hurricane Recovery Foundation and Ocean Reef Community Foundation is helping defray costs for the first project. “If this goes well, it will pave the road for more projects.”

Still displaced six months post-Irma were 114 Monroe County households as of March 7, in FEMA transitional hotel housing that ended with a March 10 checkout date. Still in FEMA trailers were 195 households.

With homes built specifically to exceed Monroe County building codes, the Florida Keys Community Land Trust spearheaded the project to help with the affordable housing situation in the Keys.

A representative from the trust, Irina Woelfle, said the challenges in the Keys are unique. “I had no idea workforce was being bussed into the Keys from Homestead,” she said. “There’s nothing cheap about affordable housing.”

The trust, through private funding, bought nine properties with building right allocations on Big Pine Key and is under contract for seven more. The trust will offset costs keeping rent at 30 percent of the annual household income for workers like officers, servers, teachers and babysitters. “We are committed to making sure these stay affordable,” said Woelfle. Six properties have already been demolished for future “affordable” projects.

When asked about managing companies for the new homes, Woelfle wasn’t sure on the specifics.

Florida Keys Community Land Trust is a nonprofit established in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma to preserve and enhance the way of life for the workforce of Monroe County, Florida. Through the community land trust model, it will construct energy efficient and resilient Keys Cottages. The Florida Keys Community Land Trust, working closely with the Florida Housing Coalition, is committed to bringing workforce housing to The Keys into perpetuity.

More than 1,800 homes were destroyed with nearly 3,000 sustaining major damage. Existing rental homes will have to be rebuilt, but at much higher costs, hurling already unsustainable rents upward. In Monroe County, only 1,970 more building permits are available through 2023. Something like 700 will be designated for affordable housing and the remaining 1,270 will be market rate. — Florida Keys Community Land Trust

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Kristen Livengood is a Marathon High School and University of South Florida grad, mom of two beautiful little girls, and wife to some cute guy she met in a bar. She enjoys red wine, Tito's, Jameson, running (very, very slowly), and spearfishing.