For 82 years, the 136 apartments in the Lang Milian public housing complex have housed thousands of Key West residents spanning four generations.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was president when the first tenants moved in to the apartments at White and Eaton streets in 1942. The U.S. had just entered World War II and after the dire straits of the Great Depression, Key West once again swelled with sailors, soldiers, submariners, civilian staffers and, of course, tourists.
But nothing lasts forever, and the boxy, concrete apartment buildings painted in Caribbean-style colors have been showing their age for decades.
“The buildings on those 8.7 acres have absolutely reached the end of their useful life, so the plan is to rebuild the existing 136 units, plus an additional 60 apartments, which can be added to the property without any height variances or special density exemptions,” said Randy Sterling, executive director of the Key West Housing Authority, which manages a total 1,169 units of public housing and deed-restricted affordable housing in Key West.
“We really want to be good neighbors with this project. We got the property rezoned to allow for a density of 22 units per acre. We intentionally didn’t ask for the 40-units-per-acre density,” which would have been a possibility for affordable housing projects, Sterling said.
The replacement and expansion will be a public-private partnership between the housing authority and a private group, he said, adding that negotiations are in progress with the top-ranked development firm.
The $60 million to $70 million estimated price tag will be funded with federal tax credits and the sale of private activity bonds.
“We’re hoping that we won’t need to request any funds from the land authority,” Sterling said. “HUD has been encouraging these public-private partnerships and they have pathways to encourage such partnerships.”
The housing authority is working on a temporary relocation plan to ensure that all current residents have housing during construction. The federal housing & urban development department must approve that plan, Sterling said, adding that construction will take place in two phases, with the first 45 units located to the right of the property’s entrance being demolished first and replaced with 108 new units.
The timeline for construction and completion is still up in the air, based on negotiations with the developers. But much of the early permitting and paperwork has been completed.
The 136 units that are being replaced will still be classified as public housing in which residents pay 30% of their income as rent. But the additional, new 60 units will be designated as affordable workforce housing and available for working residents with low to moderate incomes.
“We want to replicate this type of partnership and replacement program at our other public housing sites, and add additional units to each site,” Sterling said. “But we want to get this one done right first and make sure everyone is comfortable with it. Being a good neighbor is a top priority for us.”