The Real Deal Miami

Affordable housing crisis afloat in Florida Keys: report

High property values, low wages and rules to protect the habitat contribute to scarcity
By Robert Silk | May 08, 2015 09:45AM

Tradewinds Hammock apartments in Key Largo

The Florida Keys have a “crisis” in affordable housing, according to a recently-released Florida State University study.

“Monroe County faces the quadruple impact of high land values, land limited by geographic and environmental features, housing supply limited by controlled growth and a tourism economy with a prevalence of lower paying service-sector employment,” the study, authored by FSU Consensus Center Director Robert Jones, says.

The Monroe County Commission tapped the Consensus Center last August to solicit perspectives and ideas on how to address the shortage of affordable housing for Keys workers.

Fifty-one percent of households in the Keys are cost-burdened, according to the study, meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent or mortgage. By comparison, 43 percent of households Florida-wide are cost-burdened. In order to not pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing, earners in the average two-bedroom Keys home must make nearly $55,000 annually.

Jobs are plentiful in Monroe County, which has the lowest unemployment rate of Florida’s 67 counties, but high paying jobs are scarce. A November 2014 United Way of Florida study found that nearly half of Keys households live above the poverty line but still struggle to afford basic expenses, including housing.

High property values and low wages are just part of equation that has made affordable housing scarce in the Keys. Strict state-imposed rules designed to protect habitat and keep hurricane evacuation times below 24 hours have led to strict development limitations  thereby limiting housing inventory.

Jack Niedbalski, director of Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys, said the affordable housing shortage is becoming more of an emphasis for county leaders.

“I don’t think they can run from it or ignore the problem anymore. It really is a significant issue in the lifestyle of area,” he said.

The Consensus Center study, which was released in April, identified numerous potential measures to address the affordable housing problem. Among them were increasing building height limits and increasing density allowances.