How is a $700,000 townhome “affordable” for working families of Key West?

It’s not. Some city officials were deeply troubled by a July 13 update on The Lofts affordable housing development, long planned for the last 3.2 acres of Truman Waterfront. 

Funding issues now threaten to eliminate the 28 home ownership units, which were included in The Lofts proposal, along with 98 rental apartments. 

“This is so far from what we’d envisioned for this project, and we made commitments to the community about what this would be. I’d like to sit down with everyone involved,” Mayor Teri Johnston said during the July 13 discussion.

Ownership opportunities were a top priority for many working residents who expressed interest in the new development. But now, the end product could be 126 rental apartments with no ownership units — or some home purchase prices of $635,000 to $705,000, according to a report from The Lofts representative, attorney Bart Smith, at the July 13 city commission meeting.

City officials will have to decide by Sept. 23 whether to convert the project to an all-rental development.

“The bottom line is those purchase prices are ridiculously high,” Commissioner Clayton Lopez said on July 13. “I think we’ve come too far to stop, but make no mistake. If this doesn’t meet the original criteria, then I will do anything in my power to start this whole thing over in order to actually benefit the people we’re trying to help.” 

What’s the problem?

Without an additional $4.8 million — at least — the purchase price of the “affordable,” owned townhomes for moderate-income families would be $635,000 for a two-bedroom and $705,000 for a three-bedroom — plus condo fees and skyrocketing insurance costs.

Those high purchase prices were originally quoted in The Lofts’ housing proposal, which the city commission approved in November 2021, selecting The Lofts’ proposal over a competing bid from another development group that included more ownership units at lower costs.  (Commissioner Clayton Lopez and Mayor Teri Johnston voted against The Lofts’ proposal in November 2021, as they preferred the other proposal from a local development group that included local architect Bert Bender and Habitat for Humanity. Commissioner Lissette Cuervo Carey was not on the commission when two proposals were discussed, compared and selected.)

Representatives of The Lofts, which includes development company Vestcor and local nonprofit AH Monroe, repeatedly assured the city commission and residents that the purchase prices listed in their proposal that was approved by the commission would drop significantly before any homes were built and before anyone applied for a mortgage.

An infusion of $4.8 million from the Key West Land Authority would bring the purchase price of the townhomes down to the much more reasonable price of about $335,000 for moderate-income residents.


Land authority funding for home ownership comes with restrictions — and always has.

If the city and developers accept that $4.8 million to lower the home purchase prices, then all owners of the “affordable” townhomes would have to re-qualify every year and prove they still meet the income limits for affordable housing. If their income ends up exceeding the limits, the homeowner would be forced to sell the townhome and move out. The requalification rules would not be an issue for rental units, Bart Smith told the commission.

“For middle-income people, the maximum income you can make for a two-bedroom home is $182,000 a year,” Bart Smith said.

“But if any homeowners’ income exceeds 160% of the county’s area median income, they’d be obligated to sell,” Bart Smith told the city commission at their July 13 meeting. “To us, that’s not homeownership. It restricts your ability to be successful. It restricts upward mobility and we feel it’s a nonstarter. Now, if the commission directs us to accept the land authority money with its restrictions, we’ll do it, but we’d rather not. 

“Our goal is to complete this project, but we don’t feel that people having to restrict their income in order to stay in their home is a good policy,” Smith said. 

Commissioners respond

“The reality sounds like, if there’s no additional money [to replace the restricted land authority funding] the sale prices will be $635,000 and $705,000,” Commissioner Lissette Carey said. “At the community meetings I’ve attended, it seemed that no one felt they’d qualify for homes at those prices. I know I came in after the RFP and proposal passed, but if the goal is to house the people of Bahama Village, what’s the reality that they can qualify? My mindset is that the people of Bahama Village won’t be able to live there. Perhaps it has to be all rentals because it’s going to be really hard to qualify for a mortgage of nearly three-quarters of a million dollars.”

Commissioner Sam Kaufman pointed out at this week’s meeting that The Lofts group is abiding by what they promised in their initial proposal, which included the higher purchase prices — not necessarily by their assurances to lower those prices. 

It is unknown why the land authority’s funding restrictions and requalification requirements weren’t mentioned or discussed until months after The Lofts’ proposal was approved. 

Any changes to those restrictions would require approval from the state legislature.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to count on the legislature to change the land authority rules,” Kaufman said. “Has anyone looked at any other funding options for this project, like the state’s Live Local Act funding?”

Bart Smith said, “Not at this juncture. It’d be up to the city to request any funds from other sources.”

Kaufman was referring to the state’s new Live Local Act that plans to provide “historic funding for workforce housing. In addition to a multitude of new programs, incentives, and opportunities, this legislation works to refocus Florida’s housing strategy in ways that make housing more attainable,” according to the Florida Housing website

Kaufman asked City Manager Al Childress to investigate Live Local funding possibilities to potentially lower the home purchase prices.

Commissioner Lopez, whose district includes the Truman Waterfront housing, emphasized repeatedly, “I’m tired of the unknowns and I want to be sure the promises that were made are met.”

A little background

The long-awaited — and debated — affordable housing has been slated for the last 3.2 acres of Truman Waterfront since 2002, when The Navy gave the entire 28-acre property to the city of Key West as part of military downsizing that declared the former submarine base surplus property. 

The city spent nearly two decades turning most of the parcel into a popular and well-used park, with ballfields, green space, art installations, a kids’ splash pad and an amphitheater.

The last 3.2 acres were always slated for affordable housing to benefit local residents, particularly those in the adjacent neighborhood of Bahama Village.

The topic will be back on the commission’s September meeting agenda, as they don’t meet in August.

Mandy Miles
Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.