The white picket fence isn’t just a dream for 14 Lower Keys homebuyers. ZILLOW

Living in a community in a constant struggle with affordable housing, it’s worth celebrating our victories. A big one came last week. The City of Key West Community Development Office announced that in the last year, 14 Key West families have been assisted with homeownership — and one applicant is on the way—thanks to a cooperative community effort, and $200,000 of funding, in the form of a long term loan, from the city. 

“We have folks doing a lot of creative financing,” said Lee-Ann Broadbent, program administrator for the Community Development Office for the City of Key West. Broadbent is referencing that the city doesn’t work alone — there are public partners, like Monroe County’s Homebuyer Assistance Program and the Housing Authority—as well as nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. First-time homebuyers that benefitted from the program included a spectrum: “from a single person to a families with two or three children, spanning very diverse work fields, everything from fisherman and bartenders to folks working for the city,” said Broadbent.  

“It’s a mortgage with a deferred payment for 30 years,” Broadbent explained, “and it’s zero interest.” That way, applicants can pay their mortgage for 30 years without owing on the $20,000 from the city, and they have time to plan how to pay it back without the burden of interest accruing. The city offers the $20,000 in financing to go toward a down payment or closing costs. Payment would be due in 30 years, or upon sale or transfer of the property. There are traditional bank loans — First State Bank has been a leading lender — and other avenues, like VA loans, which only require 3% down on a house. Once families qualify for a loan from a bank or other entity, they can apply to the city for the zero-interest loan. 

As soon as the city — which is currently settling on a budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year — finalizes its plan, interested locals will find out if there’s money for the program. Broadbent is optimistic. 

“Some families were part of Habitat for Humanity,” said Broadbent, “and they were able to use the funds to purchase their Habitat homes, after they put in their equity time.” The timing was ideal for some Habitat families, who worked with Homeowner Services Director Susan Kent. 

Kent said different entities help with each piece of the financial puzzle: 

“Habitat has a homebuyer program, and we are in partnership with the Monroe County Housing Authority and the City of Key West. The Homebuyer Program was implemented to help with down payments, because that’s a big chunk of change, and backend costs can be a real killer for first-time homebuyers.”

Habitat has 45 residents in homes that were purchased through the Habitat Homebuyer Program and 38 tenants. “Our next project is slated for 16 more homebuyer opportunities on Cudjoe Key,” said Kent. Eight of the 14 homebuyers who received funding through the city’s Homebuyer Assistance Program also worked with Habitat to finance — and often, build — their homes. 

“We are also currently working with Key West Housing Authority and trying to create a home owning opportunity in Old Town Key West,” said Kent.

Rumor has it, in the current fiscal year, the city will allocate another $200,000 loan to the Homebuyer Assistance Program to keep it rolling. Sometimes, the American Dream reminds us it’s still available in the Southernmost City, when the community works together to make it a reality. 

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