New Key West Leader Takes On Old Problem: Affordable Housing

Oct 19, 2015

  When Richard Payne was campaigning for the Key West City Commission over the last few months, he kept hearing about one issue: affordable housing. It didn't surprise him.

"I have four kids. Three of them don't live here, and that's because they couldn't afford to buy a home here and raise their family here. So basically, they've moved away," said Payne, who won a commission seat earlier this month.

So for his first meeting as a city commissioner, Payne is proposing a resolution that the city join forces with Monroe County's affordable housing advisory committee. That group is already working on finding and keeping affordable housing for people who live and work in the Keys. Payne said several of its members are from Key West, and he wants to join forces with other public entities, too.

"There's no sense in having the county going off in a different direction, the city going in a different direction, the Housing Authority going in a different direction, the School Board going in a different direction," Payne said. A united approach could help in winning grants from the state or federal government, he said.

Payne said he has no specific proposals now, but he wants the city to attack the problem on every front.

"We've really got a problem there," he said. "We need to preserve, we need to foster, we need to protect, we need to build, we need to add to our affordable housing stock."

Homes in Key West have a median home value of almost $550,000, according to Zillow.com. That's an increase of more than 11 percent in the last year.

High on Payne's list of priorities is protecting the existing homes where workers live, and preventing them from being converted to vacation rentals or upscale homes aimed at the snowbird market.

"We have a lot of rich people already here. We need workforce housing," Payne said. "The rich persons are not going to be waiting on tables and cleaning the rooms in the motels or being in the police department, fire department or teaching our kids."