After Irma, Keys will get up to 1,300 permits for new workforce housing rentals

Hurricane Irma wrecked about 1,200 homes and businesses in the Florida Keys, not including trailers.
Hurricane Irma wrecked about 1,200 homes and businesses in the Florida Keys, not including trailers. Miami Herald

The Florida Keys is in line for up to 1,300 building permits reserved for affordable workforce housing.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday directed the state Department of Economic Opportunity to come up with “enhanced workforce housing” in the Keys as part of the recovery effort from the devastation left by Hurricane Irma last September.

“I heard the municipalities can get 300 of them,” said Mayor Craig Cates. “We need it very badly. I know it takes awhile to get these projects done but we’ve got to keep moving in that direction and get more affordable rental housing.”

Irma destroyed housing working people could afford. Nearly 1,200 homes and businesses were destroyed by the Category 4 hurricane. That number doesn't include mobile homes.

Scott’s order will be presented to his cabinet at their next meeting.

Key West's city code defines affordable housing as having rents that don't exceed a certain percentage of a family's income. For example, the lowest affordable housing category ensures that rents aren't higher than 30 percent of 80 percent of the monthly median household income.

“For business owners across the Keys, the availability of affordable workforce housing has been a challenge that was compounded by Hurricane Irma,” Scott said in a statement. “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.”

DEO reviews local development decisions in the Florida Keys, which the Legislature has deemed Area of Critical State Concern.

State law requires that growth be limited in the Keys to ensure that residents can evacuate safely within 24 hours in advance of a hurricane. But the Keys Workforce Housing Initiative would require renters in the new workforce housing to evacuate 48 hours in advance.

“This solution will not only provide workforce housing for private-sector businesses but public servants, like law enforcement and teachers as well,” said Cissy Proctor, Executive Director of DEO.

State Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, said Irma pushed the affordable housing problem to a critical state, eliminating an already strained housing stock.

“The plan Gov. Scott has directed DEO to bring before cabinet is a creative solution to the most-pressing recovery challenge still facing the Florida Keys,” Raschein said.