Key West commissioner wants Navy to open vacant housing units

The U.S. Navy owns 166 housing units at Sigsbee Park in Key West that have been unoccupied for more than five years.

Key West City Commissioner Sam Kaufman wants to open them up to both military members and civilian Defense Department employees. He sent a letter on Dec. 8 to U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Miami and the Keys) seeking his "assistance" with that.

"The federal government can make a positive impact on our island by making these units available," he wrote.

Kaufman plans to put the topic on the City Commission's Jan. 5 agenda. 

"There's really no active planning going on," Kaufman said. "I think it's way too many units."

The units have been in "caretaker" status since August 2010. Naval Air Station Key West spokeswoman Trice Denny said they weren't included in the Navy's original public/private partnership with GMH Communities Trust in October 2007, which later became Balfour Beatty Communities.

BBC oversees 733 military housing units split across Truman Annex, Trumbo Point, Sigsbee and the Naval Branch Health Clinic.

Denny said the Sigsbee units were bachelor housing, open to any Department of Defense civilian employee, until the Navy revamped its program and moved those people to barracks at Truman. Water and electricity were then shut off to those units.

The Naval Facilities and Engineering Command is doing a "usability" study on the units. She said base commander Capt. Steven P. McAlearney's intentions are to put them to use for housing.

"The intent is for someone to come in and be the landlord, but they would still be Navy property," Denny said. 

The Navy's civilian workforce, much like the city and Monroe County, struggles with affordable housing. Denny noted that there is an average one-year wait for civilian housing, and that affects everyone from child-care workers to firefighters.

"If they can't find a place to live, they can't stay," she said.