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More Affordable Homes Possible For The Keys — But Renters Would Have To Leave Early For Storms

Tim Chapman
Miami Herald

The Florida Keys have had a crisis in affordable housing for decades — and it got worse after Hurricane Irma.

Gov. Rick Scott now has a new proposal to add rental units for workers and get around the island chain's strict growth limits.

New building in the Keys is limited by the ability to evacuate the islands in 24 hours when a hurricane approaches.

The number of new permits has been allocated under the county’s and cities’ comprehensive plans. A total of 3,500 new units in the Keys over 10 years were approved by the state in 2013 under current evacuation times.

Read more: Keys Housing After Irma — Where Do We Go From Here?

This week, Scott told the Department of Economic Opportunity — the state agency that oversees growth management — to come up with 1300 new permits for the Keys. Those permits would be for affordable workforce rental units.

The state must approve all development in the Keys because the island chain is an Area of Critical State Concern.

“The Keys Workforce Housing Initiative will provide much-needed access to workforce housing, allowing businesses the opportunity to grow while providing a plan to ensure Keys residents can evacuate safely before a storm,” Scott said in a press release.

The new units would get around the growth limit cap by requiring “new construction that participates to commit to evacuating renters in the 48-hour window of evacuation,” according to the press release.

Read more: The Florida Keys Hurricane Challenge Is To Get Everyone Out On Time

The Monroe County Commission is planning to hold a special meeting about the proposal at 11 a.m. Thursday, May 10, at the Marathon Government Center. The plan has the backing of State Rep. Holly Raschein, who represents the Keys, according to the DEO press release.

The proposal is scheduled to go before the Governor and Cabinet at the next meeting, on May 15.

The measure will likely face some opposition in the Keys.

Mark Songer, president of the environmental and quality of life group Last Stand, said the group has concerns about how the early evacuation requirement would be enforced.

“When you’ve got an evacuation order, the law enforcement people and the emergency managers have much better things to do than worry about compliance with that,” he said.

He said adding more residents on the islands — and more cars on the road when a hurricane is approaching — would create a “very serious, very dangerous situation” especially for the Keys’ biggest population center, Key West, which is at the end of the 110-mile Overseas Highway.

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