The Anchor Inn will receive 11 affordable building rights from the county, with conditions attached. KATIE ATKINS/Keys Weekly

It is almost impossible to gauge how many people have moved out of the Keys since Hurricane Irma, but Monroe County Commissioners say, “We’re losing people everywhere.”

More than once in recent months, the commission mentioned the issue that goes hand-in-hand with the reported exodus: a severe lack of affordable housing.

It would seem commissioners would be eager to see more affordable housing built, but at their July 18 meeting, they were reluctant to approve 11 affordable housing allocations for a project in the City of Marathon by Josh Mothner of IMBY Inc. He plans on revamping the Anchor Inn into seven studio efficiencies and constructing four new three-bedroom, two-bath units.

Marathon has given away all of the units it had for affordable housing projects and therefore asked the county for more. The city will get them, but they won’t be “free.”

The arrangement approved involves providing the 11 affordable Rate of Growth Ordinance units requested by IMBY in exchange for Marathon providing the county with acceptable compensation.

What that acceptable compensation will be has yet to be arranged, but it could involve the county loaning 11 ROGO units for the project. Then, when the city receives its allotment of 300 affordable units from the state (part of a plan by Gov. Rick Scott to give Monroe 1,300 units), the city would “reimburse” the county with the allocations.

“I think that the meeting was good because, for the most part, we all agreed there was a deal to be made, and a basic premise of borrowing units makes sense,” Mothner said. “The specifics and the details need to be worked out, but the idea that we should borrow the units instead of them giving them to (Marathon) makes sense.”

The reason for the commission’s reluctance is based on the uncertainty of what will happen in 2023, when the state will no longer issue building permits for the Keys. Monroe County is holding on to as many affordable building rights as possible. Come 2023, some property owners may have to settle for an affordable right in place of the market rate they may want. Case law suggests that as long as there is some type of “right” associated with the property — whether affordable or market — property owners will not prevail in a “taking” lawsuit. County Attorney Bob Shillinger has said he is protecting the interests of Keys taxpayers, who could be liable if the courts decide the county has deprived lot owners of a property’s development value. The state could also argue that the county alone is responsible if it allocates rights to a municipality.

Giving even the 11 units to the city was against Shillinger’s advice.

“We’ve sat here a long time and some of these issues go on and on. (The county has) already provided Marathon with 188 allocations. That’s 188 more cases from the unincorporated area we will likely have to defend in 2023,” he said.

“You say it’s just 11 units, but who knows what the cost of defending those units will be in the future?” said Commissioner Heather Carruthers.

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