There is no silver bullet, so really getting our collective arms around this very real threat to our local economy and the real people who make Islamorada, well, Islamorada, will take a collection of moves.

Our local businesses and residents are really best equipped to think these things through, because it is not a one size fits all endeavor.

Government rarely gets these things right. The Village should be the leader in bringing folks together to make plans, share ideas. Because the Village owns land, they can absolutely be helpful once a framework has been decided. 

Folks needing economical homes are valuable members of any community. These are people Islamorada needs far more than they need our community:

  • The teachers that impact the lives of the local youth
  • The firefighters, paramedics and sheriff deputies that are our life savers
  • The clerks at the retail shops and grocery stores that keep the checkout lines efficient.
  • The nurses and therapists that treat us when we are not 100%
  • The folks that clean our homes and keep our gardens beautiful
  • The servers and cooks who make eating out a treat
  • The employees in the tourist industry that make our tourist economy viable

Affordable housing isn’t a new topic. For decades the Village of Islamorada, employers, the workforce and other residents have been acutely aware of critical affordable housing needs. 1,009 times – that’s the number of occurrences of the word affordable in Council minutes since 2010. The word, in itself, does nothing, though. What concrete actions have actually improved the affordable housing crisis in Islamorada?

Here are the concerns, documented through council minutes, reports, studies, audits, policy… it’s all right at our fingertips:

  • In the next five years, the Village anticipates 100 deed-restricted homes will revert back to market rate, leaving just 40 of the current deed-restricted affordable homes.
  • In a few years. the Village will be lucky to have 75 deed restricted homes, while Marathon will have 1,000.
  • The Village has provided allocations for affordable housing for 20 years. Is there still no effective process to assure compliance when the homes are sold or rented?
  • The Village maintains a list of deed restricted homes – but often the list doesn’t reflect the most recent owner, who lives in the homes and whether they are qualified as “income eligible.”
  • Have members of the Village Council and/or their friends enjoyed affordable housing benefits not available or publicized for the entire community?
  • Why are 10-year deed restrictions being recorded for First-Time Home buyers when the goal of the regulations is to provide affordable housing in perpetuity?
  • The Village has collected hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years via affordable impact fees and “in lieu” fees, but what do we have to show for all the money collected?
  • Vacation rentals increase the need for additional workforce, but the annual license fee has never helped with affordable programs as intended by Village regulations.
  • Why isn’t the Village doing a better job protecting mobile home building rights?

Read more about Islamorada’s Affordable Housing Crisis. Click Here for a 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:

    • providing affordable housing allocations in the BPAS system
    • appointing a committee to research, analyze and discuss ideas and strategies related to affordable housing
    • requiring any transfer of mobile home allocations from mobile home parks to be used only for deed-restricted affordable housing,
    • requiring new development (both residential and non-residential) to create new affordable housing or pay in lieu fees that would be used for affordable housing projects
    • creating incentive programs like the first-time homeowners program
    • allowing greater density if affordable homes are built
    • excluding use of lower-priced homes as vacation rentals   

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:

Employee housing means an attached or detached dwelling unit that is intended to serve as affordable, permanent housing for working households, which derive at least 70 percent of their household income from gainful employment in the county and meet the requirements for affordable housing.” 

Monroe County provides density bonuses to commercial properties that deed restrict affordable housing as employee housing.

The Numbers

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:

The purpose of the mobile home park (MH) zoning district is to accommodate existing mobile home parks and to allow for conversion of lawfully permitted mobile homes to affordable housing that is less vulnerable to damage from severe weather events.”

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.

Click here to read the Sea Breeze story

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. 
Click here to link to Affordable Housing list maintained by the Village Planning Department.

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.”

  • In November, 2020, a deed-restricted affordable home sold for $865,000. The buyers did not qualify for affordable housing because it is to be a rental property for them. The Village was aware of the sale while still pending but was not able to prevent it.

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.

Click here to see the Scope of Work in the Corradino Group contract

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 code in two of the definitions states the maximum rent for tenants or maximum principle, interest, taxes and insurance (PITI) for owners but does not clarify that it should be tied to a percentage of the household income. 
  • All of the definitions of affordable housing and workforce housing should be reviewed and revised.
  • An “Affordable Housing Fact Sheet” is updated annually. The Fact Sheet has income limitations, but don’t these limitations need to be part of the Village code, not just in a worksheet?

Click here for the Affordable Housing Fact Sheet

Escalating Costs

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.
Click here to read the full story of 292 Gardenia Street 

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.

Click here to read about the recommendation

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.
Click here to read about Habitat’s Islamorada projects

Odd Decisions

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.”   

Click here to read more about West Marine’s Affordable Housing Agreement

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. 

Click here to read more about the opportunity presented by the program and the possible flaws.

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:

“Density: One dwelling unit per lot except up to four deed-restricted affordable housing dwelling units per lot fronting U.S. 1 pursuant to the minimum lot area standard for this zoning district.”

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. 

Click here to read suggested ideas and solutions to fix our broken affordable housing program.


Affordable Housing – What can we do?

We have a mess on our hands. It is tough to know where to start and if there is a solution. But this is a critical concern and we must do what we can to improve the situation.

  1. The Village Code related to Affordable Housing Standards needs to be reviewed and corrected with:
  • Qualifying perameters for the income and assets of the people occupying deed-restricted housing, whether owners or tenants.
  • Upper limits for selling price or monthly lease amount for a deed-restricted dwelling
  • Specific requirements for employment in Monroe County  
  • Reviewing and revising all of the definitions used in the affordable housing and workforce housing code.
  1. Current Affordable Housing Worksheet available via the Village website needs to be based on the parameters from the village code.
  2. A standard deed restriction should be utilized that provides the process to be followed when the dwelling is either rented (or lease renewed) or sold.
  3. Create specific penalties for non-compliance of affordable housing standards and diligently enforce the standards when homes are sold or rented.
  4. A list of all deed-restricted properties must be created and maintained, that includes contact information for the current occupant along with contact information for tenant if rented, tax id, date of Certificate of Occupancy, length of deed restriction
  5. Copies of all recorded deed restrictions should be maintained and easily accessed.
  6. Submit all affordable housing issues to the Achievable housing committee for review if possible before decisions are made by council.
  7. Review First Time Home Buyers requirements to make certain all homeowners using this program have deed restrictions on the dwelling in perpetuity.
  8. Stop issuing Vacation Rental licenses to property owners that have homes with 2007 assessed valuation less than 600% of current median income for Monroe County $498,000 currently.
  9. Fix any loopholes that allow building rights that originally came from mobile homes in mobile home parks to be transferred as market rate units, no matter the zoning of the mobile home park, or if the park has been rezoned.
  10. Create limitations as to redevelopment onsite of mobile home parks.
  11. Prohibit vacation rentals for mobile homes or mobile home development rights rebuilt as single family or multi-family homes.
  12. Require commercial development to build affordable homes to accommodate a percentage of the additional members of workforce needed. No mitigation.
  13. Increase the Vacation Rental license fee so funds will be generated to assist with affordable housing projects as intended.
  14. Work with Federal, State and County housing and land acquisition agencies to help with effort.
  15. Utilize Habitat for Humanity whenever possible.
  16. Audit the Affordable Housing Fund.
  17. Work diligently to obtain as much grant funding as possible for affordable housing initiatives.
  18. Pursue partnerships and funding from the Monroe County Land Authority.

Do you have an idea that you would like to submit to help with this issue? Please email us at