Chairman: 90 days to recommendations for Marathon council

Marathon’s affordable housing task force is in possession of the final draft of the housing study it commissioned. It appears to generate more questions than it answers.

“It’s a good baseline document. What’s missing is what we want to do policy-wise to address these issues. And there are some holes in the data that we have to fill in locally,” said Jeff Smith, a taskforce member.

Chairman Josh Mothner assigned members of the taskforce, and city staff, “homework” on 19 specific subjects ranging from the tiny homes concept to how the mix of affordable housing is needed (one-, two- or three-bedroom) and financing projects with the use of tax credits. Among the presentations Mothner requested was one on plans for the Marathon Manor property from School Board Member Capt. Ed Davidson, who is also a member of the Monroe County Affordable Task Force. Each member will make a very short presentation on the assigned topic at a public workshop set for Wednesday, March 16 at 5:30 p.m. at the Marathon Fire Station. After the workshop, the taskforce will meet again to decide policy recommendations for the Marathon City Council.

The finalized study repeats some of data called into question by city officials who saw the draft — specifically, the loss of 1,444 units in recent years. City officials say they can account for the loss of about 10 percent of the total but say, on the whole, that number is a “statistical anomaly.” (See sidebar for other study findings and city data.) The study’s findings were based solely on data derived from such sources as home sales, income statistics, and census and appraisal figures dating back to the year 2000 in some cases.

“My issue [with the study] is that it’s based on information that is old,” said Melissa Grady, a taskforce member.

Mothner said there is no rush and the process may take longer than the 90 days he anticipates.

“There are philosophical questions to answer in the next 90 days,” said Mothner. “In two weeks we will have a workshop, then another meeting, then another workshop.”

He also cited affordable housing projects currently underway in Marathon.

“That will hold us for a year,” he said.

Although the meeting was primarily to discuss tactics, some speakers gave hints about what policy changes may be in the future. Mayor Mark Senmartin revealed he had a very positive exchange with state officials regarding possible funding mechanisms with increased flexibility. Marathon Councilwoman Michelle Coldiron asked about tax credits or waiving fees for developers who agree to provide affordable housing.

Marathon Housing Task Force

  • Derrick Johnson
  • Daniel Samess
  • Melissa Grady
  • Josh Mothner
  • Tim Wonderlin
  • Jeff Smith
  • Rick Casey
  • Christine Todd-Young
  • Lott Pansky

200-399 : # of affordable owner-occupied units needed over 7 years

$36k – $188k : target prices of affordable owner-occupied units needed over 7 years

30-60 : # of affordable renter-occupied units needed over 7 years

$365 – $588 : target monthly rental of renter-occupied units needed over 7 years

50-100 : # of units per project sought by developers for housing projects

—    source: City of Marathon, FIU Metropolitan Workforce/Affordable Housing Assessment and Action Study


County task force meets on affordable housing

Municipalities join conservation; policy-making begins

The Monroe County Workforce Housing Committee met Feb. 19 in Marathon — it’s first inter-governmental gathering that included officials from Key West, Islamorada and Marathon. About two-dozen officials formed a rough circle to give reports on current affordable housing conditions within their jurisdictions, as well as discuss solutions. The meeting was open to the public and many citizens also voiced concerns and offered suggestions.

The meeting was facilitated by Robert Jones of the Florida State University’s Consensus Center, the same entity that prepared a detailed “stakeholder assessment” report about the issue in April of 2015.

Key West’s Planning Director Thaddeus Cohen, the former secretary of the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) under Governor Jeb Bush from 2004 to 2007, said he’s exploring some new avenues to develop affordable housing. He suggests policy changes that would allow him to bring a block of affordable housing forward all at once, rather than allotting a certain number every year until 2023 as outlined by the state.

“If we pool those, it will allow developers to aggregate [permits] to do projects of size. Economies of scale will drive down construction costs,” Cohen said.

He also suggested loosening parking requirements and density requirements to appeal to developers.

George Garrett, the planning director for Marathon, said one of the city’s challenges is retaining affordable housing that is not deed restricted. He said about 50 percent of homes in Marathon were built before 1975, the year floodplain restrictions were put in place.

“Those will probably be redeveloped in the next few years, and finding ways to preserve the affordability of those units is important, Garrett said.

Islamorada Planning Director Cheryl Cioffari outlined the village’s position, noting the council recently allowed caretaker cottages up to 1,500 square feet to be deed restricted. She said the village has 37 unused allocations for affordable housing and allocated two permits last year.

“There’s not a strong desire to develop affordable housing in Islamorada,” she said. “Feedback on the length of the deed restriction [years before house can be sold at market rate] is that investors will not see a return.”

Monroe County’s Senior Director of Planning Mayte Santamaria reported on the county’s position. She said the county has a pool of 220 unused allocations and a total of 700 to be used before they expire in 2023. Some of those affordable permits have been promised to Marathon for projects that are still pending.

Various citizens offered suggestions and anecdotal data. Monroe County School Board Member Bobby Highsmith said that 15 new teachers were hired in 2014, but only one of those returned the following year due to housing costs. David Dipre of the Florida Wildlife Commission and Marianne Benvenuti of the Guidance Clinic also cited high employee turnover rates. Members of the public suggested policing homes violating vacation rental law and depriving communities of affordable housing, and also building developments specifically for seniors who might vacate a Keys home to live in the facility, increasing the stock of available affordable housing.

Monroe County Mayor Pro Tem Heather Carruthers, although absent, forwarded discussion items for the taskforce. For example, should the cities and county come up with a consistent income requirements to qualify for affordable housing? Should the number of years a property is deed restricted be consistent?

Key West developer Ed Swift had some specific ideas, too. First, he wanted to make city planning directors full members of the taskforce. He also suggested striking the words “deed restricted” from the collective vocabulary.

“Either take out the language or make the deed restrictions last forever, in perpetuity,” he said. Swift said it is more advantageous to own the land under affordable housing on a long-term lease and then subsidize the project with cash to make the development more attractive for investors.

“You cannot build median or low-income housing without a subsidy,” Swift said. “And, if you don’t identify a funding source you will never build it.”

Swift suggested a popular funding source currently bandied around town: sales tax.

The City of Key West, Islamorada and Marathon followed up the county roundtable gathering with meetings of its own this week.

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