As locals struggle to afford housing, Keys officials forced to get creative to solve squeeze

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. – As more tourists come to the Florida Keys, some of whom are buying second homes, more residents are having a harder time finding an affordable place to live.

Monroe County officials say they’re having to get creative to tackle the housing crunch. The state considers the Keys an “Area of Critical State Concern”, limiting how much development can happen in the space and resource-limited island chain that has to be able to safely evacuate in a hurricane.

“We have to focus on new ideas,” Monroe County Land Authority head Christine Hurley said.

Hurley said one of those ideas is purchasing land from sellers whose homes were damaged in hurricanes for redevelopment into affordable housing.

The county is doing that on Big Pine Key, where it purchased 12 sites damaged by Hurricane Irma back in 2017.

“After Irma, there were a lot of property owners who wanted to leave,” Hurley said “Their homes were destroyed. We only worked with willing sellers.”

The county secured funding from the state to help cover the building costs. Renderings of the project show code-compliant homes, elevated above the flood risk.

“They’ll be rented to the workforce of our community at affordable levels,” Hurley said.

The county is working on housing on Conch Key, where storm-battered mobile homes will be replaced with small houses, like a prototype built in Key Largo.

Last week, Local 10 News visited Marathon, where a balcony collapse at an apartment building rendered the workforce housing unsafe.

“There is just nowhere to live that’s affordable,” resident Marty Curry said at the time.

The county expects the homes in Big Pine Key to be ready by the end of the year and it will start taking applications in the coming months.

About the Author:

Janine Stanwood joined Local 10 News in February 2004 as an assignment editor. She is now a general assignment reporter. Before moving to South Florida from her Washington home, Janine was the senior legislative correspondent for a United States senator on Capitol Hill.