The commission voted against directing the city manager to work with the Housing Authority of Key West for the development of affordable and workforce housing at Poinciana Plaza at the city commission meeting on Wednesday.
“Upon seeing this item on the agenda my immediate question is why are we not looking at Easter Seals. The property was already voted down as becoming the next homeless shelter,” Commissioner Tony Yaniz said. In December, the city commission voted against using the Easter Seals property as a homeless shelter site, however City Manager Jim Scholl and Mayor Craig Cates have said it is the only viable property where the shelter can be located. The deadline to move the shelter is in late February.
Affordable housing has been a serious issue in Key West for more than a decade, but the issue came to the forefront after City Planner Don Craig brought forward a document called the “White Paper” in October, explaining the urgent need for 6,000 affordable units. The document also directed the city to hire a fulltime staffer to tackle affordable housing and work with the city’s land authority, as well as state officials.
The proposed Poinciana project entailed 40 new units to be built and operated by the city’s housing authority. Commissioner Terri Johnston said the project is a drop in the bucket towards the city’s overall need, but a beginning at least.
“We have got to start somewhere. We have a location and let’s look for all viable sites. We have got a property with an executive director willing to work with us. Let’s be proactive,” said Johnston.
Chairman of Florida Keys Outreach Coalition (FKOC) Sam Kaufman agreed with commissioner Johnston and said nothing happens until the commission makes a decision.
“Poinciana seems to be an excellent location, with the site control and space. Procrastination is perpetual however. We don’t want affordable housing to move at the same rate as the Truman waterfront. The White Paper was presented two and a half months ago and Don Craig said that was urgent. I have not heard anything since Oct. 7,” said Kaufman.
City Commissioners Tony Yaniz and Clayton Lopez said they felt affordable housing might work better on other properties and the city should look at changing building heights before building any structures. Lopez suggested putting affordable housing units on part of the 6.6 acres of the Truman Waterfront Project, Yaniz said he would like to see other locations and buildings tower to six stories.
“If we cannot build out, the only way to go is up,” Yaniz said.
Commissioners Billy Wardlow, Mark Rossi, Clayton Lopez and Tony Yaniz nixed the agenda item but directed the city manager to investigate and present options to increase affordable and workforce housing units by responsibly increasing density and height.