“This is a crisis of extreme proportions,” warned County Commission Heather Carruthers during a roundtable discussion about affordable housing earlier this week.

In a report commissioned by the BOCC and prepared by the Florida Consensus Resource Center (FCRC) of Florida State University, data revealed that Monroe County is one of the most “cost-burdened” small counties in the nation as 30-50% of a family’s income is just for housing.

The analysis comes as no surprise to anyone. A limited supply combined with high insurance rates and increasing demand continues to squeeze families and make it harder for businesses to find housing for their employees.

“We have been talking about workforce housing in Key West since 1940,” said Key West Commissioner Tony Yaniz, who was one of many elected officials from throughout the county with a seat at the table.

Others invited to the discussion included councilmembers from Marathon and Islamorada, four county commissioners, Habitat for Humanity representatives and FCRC Director Robert Jones.

“Solutions to the workforce housing challenge require a broad-based, proactive approach,” he said, suggesting the county perform a “situation assessment” as the first phase of a process that “will engage a broad range of Monroe County public private and non-profit stakeholders and leaders to clarify substantive issues involved and options to consider.”

He said the report is designed to summarize and whether a committee should be convened, its scope, the participation opportunities for the interested public. The recommendations will also address any coordination need with other local, regional, state, federal, private or non-profit programs or activities.

Jones is requesting individuals, organizations or businesses supply perspectives on the housing crisis in order to achieve a clearer idea of the issue.

To help, email him at [email protected] or reach out to Monroe County Growth Management Executive Assistant Mayra Tezanos at [email protected].

Those spearheading the affordable house discussion included, from left: County Commission David Rice, County Attorney Bob Shillinger, County Mayor Sylvia Murphy and the County’s Legislative Affairs Director Lisa Tennyson.

The affordable housing discussion drew more than 50 audience members from throughout the county – a clear reflection of how important this issue has become.

Those with seats at the table included Key West Planning Director Don Craig, County Commissioner George Neugent and Key West Commissioner Tony Yaniz.

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  1. It is crucial that legislators address the Monroe County affordable housing situation immediately. Back in the early 1970’s, some people might recall that the government created a “235” housing program. The program was designed to make housing affordable to lower income individuals and families while at the same time, it put thousands of people to work building homes. The average home cost approximately $24,000 dollars to build at the time, and a minimal down payment was required of the purchasers (sometimes as low as $200.00). Interestingly enough, longtime research has shown that a good majority of the individuals that purchased these homes were able to work, flourish and rise up out of the cycle of poverty. The SHIP program is outdated and unrealistic. Participants are oftentimes expected to come up with at least 3% of their own funds (although this varies with each city and the participating lenders) and, nowadays, housing is far too expensive (especially in Monroe county) for this requirement. Furthermore, SHIP program participants are at the mercy of the individual lenders for “set” interest rates regardless of the participants’ credit scores. What’s more, SHIP programs have endless guidelines such as front end and back end ratios, unrealistic residency requirements (sometimes 30 years), frequent credit checks required by the program administrator and the lender) which can ultimately have a negative impact on the purchaser (whether or not he/she is able to successfully purchase a home), realtors are often unfamiliar or unwilling to work with SHIP programs in such a “tight” market whereby there is such a shortage of homes, pre-approval letters are often required at least every 90 days by the realtor and by the lender (which can lower one’s credit score even further) and unrealistic caps on home purchase amounts. Therefore, the SHIP program ultimately ends up defeating it’s purpose by pushing the “lucky few” that do in fact meet the guidelines of the program, to purchase in distressed areas. I was offered at least two teaching positions in Monroe County over the years. Unfortunately, the lack of affordable housing lead me to turn the positions down. However, this is now years later, and the Monroe County housing situation has worsened considerably. In fact, there was no mention in the article of the availability of affordable housing in the upper/middle keys for the disabled and elderly. When the affordable housing is no longer available in eight years due to the Florida evacuation plan, where will they go?

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