AFFORDABLE HOUSING - DETAILED ANALYSIS
Affordable Housing in Islamorada
For decades the local government, the employers, the employees and the residents of Islamorada have been acutely aware of the critical need for affordable housing. And in fact, according to our Land Development Regulations, Sec. 30-632.- Findings, there is a critical need to preserve existing and create additional “affordable workforce housing” based on prior studies. Little has been done to remedy the concerns. In fact, the situation keeps getting more dire.
And nothing to specifically address workforce housing.
A search of all minutes for regular council meetings for the last ten years – 2010 through 2019 demonstrates that the word affordable was in the minutes 1,009 times – over 100 mentions per year. This is clearly an issue of importance to our council and our community.
Our Comprehensive Plan recognized that it was critical to address the affordability problem 20 years ago. And most residents thought the Village was addressing the issue to some extent by:
But, for all these expectations of preserving existing affordability and creating additional affordable homes, the Village often seems to be going in the wrong direction.
Unlike the county, the Village is not specific in addressing the needs of the workforce. And because a significant number of current affordable designations are only temporary, efforts to create affordable housing should require that at least a majority of remaining allocations go to folks that work here.
The Monroe County Land Development regulations state:
Monroe County provides density bonuses to commercial properties that deed restrict affordable housing as employee housing.
Specifically, since incorporation, approximately 139 dwellings in Islamorada have been deed-restricted as affordable, but only 40 of those will remain deed-restricted by 2026 according to the planning staff’s database. Our original code required deed restrictions for just 20 years and then the homes revert to market rate. Now homes allocated through BPAS are deed-restricted in perpetuity; a total of 40 in perpetuity according to the Village list.
By contrast, Marathon was incorporated after Islamorada. While a slightly larger community, they have 547 existing deed-restricted affordable homes currently occupied, 173 under construction, 60 approved and 198 more in planning stages.
Yet, each year only a percentage of our residential BPAS allocations are used for deed-restricted affordable homes. Typically, there are approximately 12 affordable housing allocations each year.
But. over the years, it is clear we lose more housing appropriate for our workforce than we gain. Most at risk are the mobile home parks that used to provide the most affordable dwellings.
Mobile Homes Most at Risk
A number of mobile home parks that existed when the Village first incorporated 22 years ago have either been redeveloped on site, the building rights have been transferred as market rate, or the property has been rezoned.
The 22 new three-story homes behind the post office, named The Islands of Islamorada, are now a mini-resort with vacation rental licenses -- and the result of building rights from a mobile home park.
Twenty years ago, the Council attempted to prevent this trend, but hundreds of mobile homes have been eliminated and redeveloped as anything but affordable dwellings since then despite attempts to retain affordability. And no effort has been made to close any loopholes that allow this.
Even as recently as July of 2020, the Village Council transferred nine development rights that were originally from, Coral Cove, a mobile home park. Although the Village Comprehensive Plan says they can only be transferred as affordable, they were transferred to an oceanfront tract as market rate rights. According to the site plan, nine large homes with individual swimming pools will be built. Vacation rental licenses probably will be the next step.
There are also three-story homes with individual swimming pools used as vacation rentals built as eight trailer replacements at Coral Cove, next to Woody’s.
The Village Land Development Regulations allow redevelopment of mobile home parks:
But, when our zoning maps were created nearly 20 years ago, nearly all of downtown Islamorada was zoned “Village Center” including properties with approved mobile home parks. And therefore those mobile home parks can be redeveloped onsite with market rate homes, but transfers offsite must be as affordable homes. And transient RV spaces were allowed as a use.
There were 144 mobile homes at Sea Breeze and San Pedro mobile home parks at MM 87, that once housed dozens and dozens of folks that worked in Islamorada. They were totally demolished by the wrath of Hurricane Irma. Their zoning is Mobile Home Park. The Village has been quiet as to how that property will be redeveloped but the Director of Planning has approved site plans there.
Peaceful Palms, a mobile home park on Windley Key, had 15 trailers removed, the property was rezoned from Mobile Home Park to Multi-Family, and now is for sale, 1.145 acres for $5,895,000, advertised as an opportunity to build 15 market rate homes. Will these end up with vacation rental licenses? Or transferred as market rate TDRs?
Since the Village was first incorporated, there obviously has been no suitable process for assuring compliance with our affordable housing goals.
While the Planning Department maintains a database of deed-restricted dwellings, the list contains many inaccuracies as to length of deed restriction, owners, addresses, and duplicates on the list, so the totals being quoted are not correct.
Our list of deed-restricted properties has not been updated when homes are sold, suggesting we do not track sales to assure the properties remain “affordable.”
The commonly-used Deed Restriction states that the development of the property shall comply with all requirements and conditions set forth in the affordable housing provisions under Article II, Rules of Construction and Definitions, of Chapter 30, Land Development Regulations. It should say that the development and use must comply. If the Land Development Regulations do not provide the intended qualification standards, can the deed restrictions be enforced?
Who is to assure compliance? Shouldn’t the deed restriction require approval of all rentals and sales by the Village as the entity that assures compliance?
We have not been monitoring deed-restricted homes that are rented to assure they are rented to qualified tenants.
The Village did recognize the problem with compliance and a contract with Corradino Group in Miami for “Affordable Housing Compliance” was authorized by Council in July 2018 and put into effect August 28, 2018. It was specifically intended to support the Village Planning Department with affordable housing compliance, monitoring, consulting and support services. The scope of work was extensive including creating an affordable housing qualification packet, monitoring for compliance and income certification. It also provided for an annual audit of all deed-restricted affordable housing including maintenance and updates of the inventory list of deed-restricted housing units, administration of First Time Homebuyers Down Payment Assistance program, verification of the recording of deed restrictions in Public records and response to public inquiries.
Unfortunately, communication between Corradino Group and the Village (obtained via a public record request) suggests there has been little progress with compliance issues over the last two years though the Village and Corradino Group are now supposed to be working to improve the situation.
Qualifications for Affordable Housing
The Village code has three different sections that define affordable housing standards: Building Permit Allocation System, Affordable Housing Standards and the First Time Homebuyers Program. Though the code refers to the qualified owner or occupant, the Village code only seems to qualify the dwelling as to monthly cost. The Village code does not provide clear guidelines as to what qualifies the occupant of affordable housing as to income and assets.
The cost of land and construction in the Florida Keys and particularly Islamorada has been increasing at breakneck speed, making it virtually impossible to justify the creation of new affordable homes without significant subsidies, donations from not for profit organizations, and/or government involvement. In fact, several years ago the Monroe County Affordable/Workforce Housing Task Force concluded that it is simply not possible to build (and control the occupancy of) genuine affordable/workforce housing unless the land is publicly-owned, and government/tax subsidies are applied!
The Village has an Affordable Housing Fund with several funding sources and has been able to work on a very small scale on a few projects. But, have they found the best use of the funds? And have they done everything possible to partner with other County, State and Federal organizations geared to assist? The Monroe County Land Authority can buy property and assist in workforce/affordable housing efforts. But, has Islamorada reached out for assistance?
In 2020, the Village spent $560,000 to purchase a building next to Plantation Key School and bulldoze the house. The site can accommodate three small homes… potentially just one bedroom each… land cost of $190,000 per tiny home.
Building code in our area is very strict and very costly. Construction costs in Islamorada typically run over $300/square foot for basic construction so even a tiny 600 square foot home can cost $180,000 considering the land preparation, landscaping, and elevation requirements necessary at a majority of locations in the Village. This is in addition to the land costs.
Existing homes and land are in great demand and the prices just keep going further and further out of sight for our working class residents. In the six months from May 2020 to November 2020 (during a pandemic), 494 single family homes sold in Islamorada. There were only two that sold for less than $400,000.
Vacation Rental Impact
Vacation Rentals have dramatic negative impact on affordable housing. The Village recognized that when establishing the Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations 20 years ago. Tourists create a greater need for employees. Additionally, because of our rate of growth limitations we only have a fixed number of dwelling units. The more existing homes or condos that are used as second homes and vacation rentals, the fewer we have for full-time occupancy.
Affordable housing impact fees for building or expanding transient lodging is $25/square ft. The impact fee for single family homes that then get vacation rental licenses to rent short term is less than $2/square ft.
The Vacation Rental regulations specifically establish a policy that the vacation rental licenses are supposed to pay for enforcement of the vacation rental rules and any excess is to be used to help offset the impact of rentals on affordable housing. To date, the minimal $1,000/year license fee not only does not provide any excess for affordable housing projects, but in fact, over the last 7 years vacation rental enforcement has cost more than $232,500 more in total than the revenue generated by the license fees has paid back! Taxpayers treated vacation rental owners to code enforcement, for the most part. The Achievable Housing committee has voted to request the council increase the license fee significantly. Yet for some reason the Village Attorney believes it is a mistake to increase the fees and the new council is still finding its wings.
300 New Allocations for Affordable Housing
Following the destruction of hundreds of affordable homes during Hurricane Irma in September of 2017, the state (former Governor Rick Scott) provided an extra 1,300 affordable housing allocations for Monroe County, 300 of them for Islamorada. The 144 demolished mobile homes at San Pedro and Sea Breeze were cited by the Village as part of the justification for needing these additional affordable allocations. Based on the approved site plans for the two mobile home parks, the redevelopment will not bring back 144 affordable mobile homes. The new development will be largely a transient RV resort.
The Council passed an ordinance to utilize the anticipated 300 allocations based on the State’s requirements. The new allocations must be deed restricted in perpetuity and used for multi-family rentals with an onsite resident manager. And occupants must evacuate 48 hours early, compared to only 24 hrs. Before landfall like other residents, yet with no enforcement mechanisms or procedures.
But, the issuance of the 300 new allocations has been challenged on multiple bases (impacts on traffic, schools, sewage treatment and other infrastructure, and overall hurricane evacuation) during a five-day initial trial in the courts, where it will likely be tied up for quite some time yet.
Habitat for Humanity
There is some good news. Habitat for Humanity of the Upper Keys has partnered with the Village on several affordable housing projects recently.
West Marine: Back in 2016, West Marine submitted a Major Condition Use application for to build a retail store on Upper Matecumbe. An Affordable Housing Mitigation Plan was required for the new non-residential floor area. On March 30, 2017 the Major Conditional Use and the mitigation plan were both approved by council. A contract between Councilman Chris Sante and West Marine was negotiated as part of the mitigation to fulfill the required affordable housing requirements, with West Marine paying Councilman Sante $200,000 to buy something called “affordable housing credits.”
First Time Home Buyers Program: The Village passed an ordinance in 2016 to provide a loan of $10,000 at 0% interest to first-time home buyers to help with their down payment when buying an affordable housing property.
On the surface, this sounds like an excellent opportunity for qualified buyers to own a home in Islamorada.
Change of Address
In November, 2019, the Village Council heard an appeal of a planning department decision. The applicant wanted the Village to change the address of property he owns on the Old Highway on Windley Key. The applicant wanted the address changed to the Overseas Highway so that he could develop affordable housing on his two lots.
According to the Village code for this zoning:
If these properties are appropriate sites for affordable housing, why not change the code to state from fronting U.S. One, to fronting U.S. One or the Old Highway? Think of the poor people living in the future homes trying to provide directions to guests looking to visit.