A Miami developer is swooping into the Keys and making a promise to workers

Hurricane Irma destroyed or severely damaged 4,000 homes in 2017 in the Florida Keys.
Hurricane Irma destroyed or severely damaged 4,000 homes in 2017 in the Florida Keys. Miami Herald file

A Miami developer wants to build 279 units of workforce housing on three waterfront parcels on Stock Island that now house trailer parks.

Integra Investments recently finished buying the three spots: 6125 Second St., which is Tropic Palms Mobile Home Park; 5700 Laurel Ave., which is Waters Edge Colony Mobile Home Park; and 6325 First St., a trailer park without a formal name.

"The workforce ― those individuals who are instrumental in driving the local economy ― will finally be provided with much-needed quality housing that will change lives,” said Victor Ballestas, principal of Integra Investments.

The firm also wants to build 41 units of workforce housing in Islamorada, where it owns two marinas.

Workforce housing is not subsidized housing; it is homes and apartments that are affordable for someone who makes close to the median income for an area — in some communities, for example, people whose income is from 80 to 120 percent of the median income. As an incentive to build workforce housing, communities may permit higher density than the zoning usually would allow. Higher density, in turn, can bring down the price of the units.

Workers must earn at least 70 percent of their income within Monroe County to qualify.

But Integra's projects are a long way from being built — or even winning county approval.

"We have not received any applications yet," said Emily Schemper, acting senior director of planning and environmental resources for Monroe County. Under the current zoning law, she said, Integra could build 90 new units of affordable housing.

About 66 households currently live in the three mobile home parks, and Integra says it will work with them on relocation and give them first-priority on new housing.

The number is less than it was a year ago, before Hurricane Irma destroyed or severely damaged some 4,000 homes throughout the Florida Keys. “It’s been dropping pretty fast,” Ballestas said. “Irma affected those trailer parks pretty bad.”

Integra must get the permission of Monroe County to increase the density on the property. Ballestas has been talking to county staff, which will make a recommendation, but the changes would require approval of the County Commission

The site plan includes pools, a community park, a dog park and a waterfront walking path.

Integra started buying the properties, which are located in unincorporated Monroe County just outside Key West, in December with plans for market-rate housing. The deal was done by April.

But the company praised Gov. Rick Scott's recent move to provide 1,300 building permits for affordable housing throughout the Keys. Each major city, Key West, Marathon and Islamorada, may apply for up to 300 units, along with the county, while the rest could be requested by Key Colony Beach and Layton.

To bypass the state's strict growth law, the state will require anyone who qualifies for the workforce housing and signs a lease to promise to evacuate from the Keys 48 hours before a storm.

Integra hopes to start building in early 2019 but could have to wait six to nine months for the zoning approval, Ballestas said.

“In the long run, market rate [housing] can make more money,” Ballestas said. “We see a real strong need for workforce housing and it’s the focus of our company right now.”

Integra's projects include Peninsula, a 70-unit gated residential rental community in Boynton Beach; and Sereno, a 13-building multifamily complex with 134 units on the Bay Harbor Islands.