More residents of the Keys compensate for high-priced housing with smaller rental spaces

Hurricane Irma destroyed hundreds of homes in 2017 and added momentum to escalating housing costs in the Florida Keys

An aerial of the Florida Keys (Credit: iStock)
An aerial of the Florida Keys (Credit: iStock)

Higher housing costs in the Florida Keys are pushing people into smaller living spaces.

For example, Dotti Clifford, a 61-year-old reliant Social Security, pays $850 a month for a 100-square-foot apartment that once was the front porch of a house in Key West.

Hurricane Irma added to the long-rising cost of housing in the Keys by destroying hundreds of homes in 2017, worsening the lopsided relationship of housing costs and household income.

Median monthly living expenses in Key West, (including rent, taxes and utilities) total $1,701, according to U.S. Census figures, which also show that $62,052 is the median annual ncome of a Key West household.

Tiny and exceptionally functional furnishings are part of downscaled living in the Keys. Consider Lizzie Hoke, who runs an organic food store and restaurant in Key West. Hoke rents a second-floor space in a house that measures under 200 square feet. She furnished her little space with a loft double bed that provides room underneath for storage and her desk.

“I have everything I need here,” she told the Miami Herald. “I’ve learned to relax and appreciate what I have.”

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Michelle Rodriguez, 45, rents a room and a bathroom in a house in Key West for less than the typical $1,200 monthly rent for comparable quarters in the island community. She says she complies with rules set by the owner of the house, including no pets or overnight guests. “You learn to live like a teenager,” she told the Miami Herald.

In the Upper Keys, higher-priced housing encourages people with jobs there to commute from more-affordable homes in southern Miami-Dade County.

Trulia figures show that the median price of a three-bedroom house drops from $765,000 in Key Largo to $250,000 about 20 miles north in Homestead.

Hurricane Irma not only reduced the housing stock of the Florida Keys but also eliminated “some low-end housing,” compounding the challenge low-income residents face, said Rev. Kerry Foote of Burton Memorial United Methodist Church in Tavernier.

However, some new housing projects for working-class residents of the Keys have popped up, including a 16-unit attached housing development by Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys. “This is going to be the most affordable option in town,” Jack Niedbalski, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys, told the Miami Herald, referring to the Habitat at Windley Point, expected to open next year.  [Miami Herald] – Mike Seemuth