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Housing Groups Form Alliance To Rebuild In Keys After Irma

A rendering of the Seahorse cottages proposed for Big Pine Key.
Courtesy Florida Keys Community Land Trust
A rendering of the Seahorse cottages proposed for Big Pine Key, on the site of a former RV park.

It's been more than three years since Hurricane Irma destroyed more than 1,000 homes in the Florida Keys. Some people have rebuilt, some have left. Now there's a new alliance planning to replace a trailer park with more substantial (while still affordable) housing.

Rural Neighborhoods is a housing nonprofit that found its mission after Hurricane Andrew ripped through the labor camp the group ran in South Miami-Dade. Since then, it's expanded and worked in the aftermath of nine disasters, according to Steven Kirk, the group's president. And the group has learned a few tough lessons along the way.

"In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, unfortunately rebuilding isn't going to begin for two years. And public money is going to take a very long and arduous path before it's available," he said.

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Kirk visited the Keys after Hurricane Irma in 2017 and saw the need for affordable rentals. But he also saw how this would be different from most affordable housing projects. It would mean single-family homes.

"That's a unique product in the world of affordable housing. It's more expensive to develop. But on Big Pine Key, that's the character of the community," he said.

Rural Communities has formed an alliance with a much newer housing nonprofit that was born after Irma — the Florida Keys Community Land Trust. They plan to convert the Seahorse RV Park on Big Pine Key into a new community called Seahorse Cottages.

It will have 26 manufactured homes on piers 9 to 10 feet high, so they'll be safe from storm surges.

Rents would likely be $1,500 to $1,800 a month for a two-bedroom home, with some less expensive units reserved for people with very low incomes.

Nancy Klingener was WLRN's Florida Keys reporter until July 2022.
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