an artist's rendering of a street in a residential area
The joint-venture group known as The Lofts at Bahama Village is planning to build a combination of rental and owned homes at Truman Waterfront. CONTRIBUTED

Key West voters answered a resounding yes to the only question on Tuesday’s ballot, paving the way for more than 100 units of workforce housing at the city-owned Truman Waterfront.

The city needed voters to authorize a 99-year lease of the waterfront land to The Lofts at Bahama Village, a partnership that includes for-profit developer Vestcor, the Smith Hawks law firm and the nonprofit AH Monroe. (The city charter requires voters to approve any lease of city property for longer than 20 years.)

Only 17% of eligible voters cast ballots in the special election, but an overwhelming majority — nearly 70% — authorized the long-term lease. Of the 15,864 eligible voters, only 2,645, or 16.7%, cast ballots. Of the 2,645 votes cast, 1,834, or 69%, said yes, compared to 812, or 31%, that voted against the long-term lease, according to results published on the Supervisor of Elections website Tuesday night

Key West voters overwhelmingly approved a long-term lease to enable the construction of affordable housing at the city-owned Truman Waterfront. SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS/Contributed

“In order to apply for subsidized housing funds from grants and the government, we need to have control of the land for at least 50 years for affordable rental units, and 99 years for affordable home ownership,” said Scott Pridgen, executive director of AH Monroe, which has successfully steered prior affordable housing developments through the funding gauntlet. 

“The passage of the referendum is a giant step that makes it official for real affordable housing for our community,” Pridgen told the Keys Weekly on Tuesday evening. “Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time. Let’s get started.”

City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, whose district will include the new housing, also celebrated the long-awaited, but decades-delayed progress.

“I want to thank the people who saw this need and picked up the banner,” Lopez said. “Thank you, Key West voters. You have approved the affordable housing on this property twice already. Now, we can finally move forward with making it come true.”

The proposal from The Lofts group includes up to 126 total units — 98 one- to three-bedroom rental apartments, and 28 two- and three-bedroom affordable ownership units, Pridgen said earlier this month. The housing will be built on the last 3.2 undeveloped acres of Truman Waterfront, which the navy gave to the city 20 years ago. The 3.2 acres are situated on the site of a former soccer field that was recently replaced by a state-of-the-art, turf field.

The red circle on the above diagram of Truman Waterfront Park shows the 3.2 acres slated for affordable housing. CITY OF KEY WEST/Contributed

“Once the referendum passes, we can launch our interactive website to see how many people qualify for rentals and mortgages and determine how many units to build in each income category,” Pridgen said.

He explained that The Lofts proposal accommodates local households that earn 60%, 80%, 100% and 120% of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is the middle income in a given region. Monroe County’s current AMI is $84,400. 

So a two-person household that earns up to $48,850 per year is at 60% of AMI and considered very-low income. The same household that earns $65,100 per year is at 80% AMI, or low-income. A two-person family earning $84,400 is at 100% AMI and classified as median-income. Two-person households earning up to $97,650 are at 120% of AMI and considered moderate income.

Once the community’s income levels are evaluated, The Lofts group will determine the final breakdown of rental and owned units.

Mandy Miles
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.