The friction between Key West and some communities at the other end of the island chain is generally a dull but persistent sort of discord, muttered under the breath but rarely debated publicly.
Key West, to some, is the intrusive diva whose showy excesses and pouty demands make life difficult for those around her, despite their dependence on her income.
But that quiet conflict between communities has grown louder and more public in recent weeks, as county officials consider whether to assume responsibility for Poinciana Gardens.
Key West’s assisted-living facility has been struggling financially since its opening in July 2018, when only nine of its 106 units were occupied — and those residents were paying $3,000 per month for apartments.
Rents were much higher than anticipated under the original management company, making the brand-new units too expensive for most Keys seniors.
In 2019, the Key West Housing Authority, which owns the property, found a new management company that lowered rents and increased occupancy, but the facility continues to operate at a loss that the housing authority can no longer afford.
County Commissioner Craig Cates wants the county to take over operation of the facility from the housing authority with additional financial support from the city of Key West.
Cates in May called the arrangement “a no-brainer” due to the money it would save the county in the long run.
Monroe County is spending $1.2 million a year to operate Bayshore Manor on Stock Island, which currently houses only 11 residents.
“If we can move the Bayshore Manor residents to Poinciana Gardens and close Bayshore Manor, we’ll have more than a million dollars a year to put toward Poinciana Gardens,” Cates said in May. “Plus, we’ll get back the Bayshore Manor property on College Road. Plus, we’re currently spending about $250,000 to rent office space at the Professional Building and other locations in town. We can move those offices to the Bayshore Manor property that we already own to save another quarter-million dollars a year. To me, it’s a no-brainer. I hope the other commissioners see it as clearly. There’s also space available at Poinciana Gardens to have senior day care services and other activities bring in additional revenue.”
But not everyone agreed.
Resentment, dissent and political threats became apparent in recent weeks, with some Upper Keys community groups opposing the proposal, wondering why their taxes should fund something their seniors won’t use.
“This isn’t about Upper Keys vs. Key West; or Poinciana Gardens vs. Rowell’s Marina, which the county bought, but Key West doesn’t use,” County Commissioner Mike Forster told the Keys Weekly on Tuesday. “We’re not going to divide the Keys. We’re going to take care of each other. But I want to know the appetite of Key West for this project.”
Forster said he would not vote in favor of Cates’ proposal “if Key West is only putting up $400,000 the first year, then $300,000 the second year, then $100,000 the third year. We need the city of Key West to be a full partner in this with us.”
Commissioner David Rice agreed, saying, “My hope is to continue these services for our seniors with three groups — the county, the city and the housing authority — all working together, and I’ve gone from hopeful to optimistic that County Administrator Roman Gastesi is making good progress with his discussions and negotiations,” Rice said.
Commissioner Eddie Martinez said he would back Cates’ proposal.
“Our seniors are not disposable,” Martinez said. “Also, Poinciana will operate in the black when run properly, and it will be. So there should be no issues. If we move Bayshore Manor residents to Poinciana Gardens, and move some county offices to the Bayshore property, it will all be offset. Are you willing to dispose of your parents? Or anyone else’s? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t either. Search your heart and just do what is correct.”
The county commission will hear the latest from Gastesi and consider their options at their meeting on Wednesday, July 21.
Until then, the group of Key West residents who fought for 20 years to get an assisted-living facility built, is hoping the commissioners will see fit to serve the senior citizens of Key West however possible.
“The basic thing here is they need to not let our elders down,” said Joan Higgs, a former administrator at Bayshore Manor and a founding member of the Florida Keys Assisted-Care Coalition, which got the facility built. “Somehow this has become about politics instead of about taking care of our seniors. The county will protect coral reefs and old buildings, but not our elders? Their refusal to support this would be completely outrageous and inhumane, and I’ve never seen that from our county commissioners.”