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Monroe Tries To Tackle Affordable Housing Crisis

Nancy Klingener

When it comes to affordable housing, the Florida Keys face a quadruple whammy: low supply, high demand, strict growth limits and a tourism industry that pays low service-sector wages.

That's the conclusion of a new study from the Florida State University Consensus Center. Affordable housing woes are not new to the Keys. But the pressure eased some during the recession, according to Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi.

"Now the economic situation is improving and you're starting to see some of these high prices in rents and also in purchasing, it's becoming an issue again," Gastesi said.

The county has trouble recruiting for professional jobs, like county planners, and loses a firefighter every month because of housing costs, he said.

"We've become incubators for the rest of South Florida," Gastesi said. "They come down here, we spend $15-$20,000 training them and then we lose them in a year or two because they can't afford to live here."

The problem is only expected to worsen in the near future as hundreds of new hotel rooms join the Keys' booming tourist industry.

"In Key West alone, there's about 450 new hotel units coming on, in Marathon another 200 or so units that are coming online," Gastesi said. "So yes, we have a need for personnel and service industry folks, and it's tough for them to make a living down here."

The County Commission at its meeting this month will consider reconvening its Affordable Housing Committee. That committee would be charged with looking at all possibilities, including loosening restrictions on height and density.

"To solve this problem we have to talk about those two, and possibly other options," Gastesi said.

According to the real estate website Zillow, the median home value in Florida is $170,500. The median home value in the Keys is $474,900, while for Key West, it's $528,100.

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.