Monroe County had a workforce housing crisis before Hurricane Irma. Then many homes that functionally served as workforce housing were destroyed. Now long-existing, common-sense policies are being challenged as roadblocks to recovery.
Last Stand is urging the Department of Economic Opportunity to reject the idea that fractional allocation of building rights will be a solution to the Florida Keys’ workforce housing problem. This proposal makes an already risky emergency evacuation plan even more dangerous by exceeding Monroe County’s capacity to reach safety.
To someone unfamiliar with evacuation planning details, the proposal to split building rights into fractional units, to be used to construct one-bedroom, efficiency or micro units, seems to be a rational idea. If a building permit can build a five- bedroom house, why can’t it build five one bedroom houses?
The answer comes from census figures. The key is households, not bedrooms. Data behind emergency evacuation planning reveals the average Keys household evacuates with 1.4 vehicles regardless of the number of bedrooms. When remaining building rights issued under a 2012 agreement are used, vehicles from these households will take 24 hours at maximum road capacity to get to the Miami-Dade County line. Splitting these building rights increases the number of households, increasing the number of vehicles in the evacuation stream beyond the capacity for a safe evacuation within the state-law-mandated 24 hours.
Houston had only 32 hours to landfall from the first Hurricane Harvey warning that was issued at 4 a.m. We know the Keys’ emergency evacuation plan is risky, because it will take 35 hours and 30 minutes to simultaneously evacuate residents, tourists, mobile homes and the military. If the Florida Keys ever experience a time line similar to Hurricane Harvey’s, it is doubtful everyone who wants to evacuate will be able to do so safely.
Now is the opportune time for a cash infusion to county- and city-controlled affordable housing trust funds, and Last Stand is calling on state Rep. Holly Raschein and state Sen. Anitere Flores to help. Building rights from homes that were destroyed are now for sale, and private interests are offering rock-bottom prices to distressed and displaced residents.
Allowing the Land Authority to purchase building rights would better assure that the replacement units would be allocated to workforce housing. Missing this opportunity in today’s market will guarantee that seasonally used homes or vacation rental investments will rise from the rubble mounds of what were functionally workforce housing units.
Please don’t adopt a policy that creates substantial new risks while at best provides only a minor part of the solution to workforce housing needs.
Mark Songer, president, Last Stand, Key West