Streets for People / 3 Reasons You May Not Have Thought of for Voting YES on 3.2 on January 18

By Chris Hamilton. This story was written and and published by KONK Life newspaper on January 7, 2022 and is publishednd and reprinted here with permission. And please don’t forget to follow us at Friends of Car-Free Key West & Duval Street/Historic Downtown on Facebook, Twitter and check out all our Streets for People stories here. 

Voting YES in the January 18 special election to decide whether Key West should lease 3.2 acres of City-owned land in Bahama Village to a non-profit group for 99 years for affordable housing seems like a no brainer. Everyone agrees there’s a need for more affordable housing. Study after study shows this is so. Survey after survey indicates this is a problem. Voting YES addresses the issue. Putting these units downtown provides at least three additional benefits you may not have though of. 1. More locals’ living downtown creates a more local focused, less touristy vibe and that’s good for our historic business district; 2. Housing downtown makes it easier to bike, walk and use transit to get around; and 3. Not being car dependent brings livability costs down even further for residents of the project. 

Everyone Agrees There’s a Need for More Affordable Housing 

The Chamber of Commerce says workers are leaving the Keys due to a lack of affordable housing citing more than 2,000 people leaving Key West between March 2020 and April 2021. A recent survey of residents says affordable housing is our number one issue. And the recently adopted Key West Forward Strategic Plan 2021-2024 puts affordable housing front and center as the City’s number one priority.

The good folks at Slow Down Key West put it this way: 

“One thing that hasn’t slowed down over the last few years is the escalating home values in Key West and the loss of workers leaving Key West as a result. As homes are sold and resold at astronomical prices then too rents are increasing dramatically. In many cases new home owners have stopped doing long term rentals, which the Key West Working Class rely on — and have switched to renting monthly to tourists where they can get $10,000+ per month. This has had the effect of squeezing the working class into fewer and fewer available long-term rentals and has pushed rents ever higher – which has forced thousands of workers to leave Key West over the last few years.”

Adding approximately 126 workforce homes, with almost a quarter dedicated to homeownership, is a start in addressing the problem.

1. More Locals’ Living Downtown Creates a More Local Focused, Less Touristy Vibe and That’s Good for Our Historic Business District

More locals downtown mean more people that will frequent nearby bars, restaurants, and retail and that is good for business. It means 300 more people that can shop at grocery stores, hair salons, coffee shops, bodegas, and convenience stores too. 

Most visitors, to any destination, crave an authentic, real place that the locals love. When business caters to those of us who live and work here, you get a more real, authentic experience that visitors appreciate. They don’1t want chains and stuff they can get at home. They don’t want tourist trap places either. With 300 more locals mixing in, it helps to change the vibe a bit. 

Says the travel blog Tourism Tiger:

“The local experience trend means many tourists now like to travel like locals, and to immerse themselves in the culture, traditions, and language of a place. As more and more people grow tired of resorts and standard vacations, there has been a shift towards wanting to see the “real” side of the destinations they visit.”

Paul Menta of Key West First Legal Rum Distillery and head of the Shop Mom and Pop Key West group agrees and adds: 

“Keeping locals living locally in Key West has many advantages such as it keeps the local economy going as they buy at Mom-and-Pop type places, they have options to bike or bus to work, which takes the stress away of driving and parking, and they add to the ambiance of Key West by having locals walking around with tourists. Sounds funny but when you travel you want to shop and eat where the locals are!” 

No, adding 126 units and 300 people isn’t going to transform downtown. But it’s a start. In our July 9, 2021 article “Limiting Large Cruise Ships Gives Us an Opportunity to Make Duval Street & Historic Downtown More Local Focused, Again” we go into more detail about creating that locals’ vibe that many recall from days of yore. 

2. Housing Downtown Makes It Easier to Bike, Walk and Use Transit to Get Around

At just 1.1 miles between Fort Street to the south and White Street to the north and 1.2 miles between the Gulf in the west down Duval Street to the Atlantic in the east, downtown is very compact and flat. Most of our jobs and attractions are here. From the project it is 7 blocks to Fausto’s grocery store on Fleming, 5 blocks to CVS on Truman and 5 blocks to Walgreens on Duval. Life for residents of the Lofts (the proposed name of the project) will be within walking and certainly pedal distance. Even better, the Duval Loop bus and it’s 20–30-minute frequent service goes right by the new housing, connecting residents quickly to all downtown seven days a week, early mornings to late night. 

The proximity to everything makes it possible that the additional 300 people will generate very little traffic and parking congestion downtown. That’s a good thing.

When asked if the project would increase traffic in Bahama Village here’s how the project’s sponsors answered:

“The current proposal is to open Fort Street to Angela for pedestrians and bikes ONLY. The Lofts will not be a “shortcut” to anything. The traffic pattern of the site is self-contained within the site, meaning NO through traffic. The once-proposed commercial space has been eliminated, so this will also not contribute to new retail or customer traffic. While the City Planning department will require a specific number of parking spaces, based upon the total number of units, this environmentally-green project suggests one car space per-unit. Incentivizing residents without cars is another means to reduce traffic. Again: this is why community meetings and input are critical.”

If anything, we think they are underselling the value of building housing right in the heart of downtown. I live downtown and don’t own a car. Even if many of the residents do have cars, they won’t need to use them most of the time.

3. Not Being Car Dependent Brings Livability Costs Down Even Further for Residents of the Lofts 

Much of the more recent affordable housing stock, like the 208-unit Quarry Apartments on Big Coppitt have been built up the Keys. The under construction 280-unit Wreckers Cay and the 104-unit College Road affordable projects are being built on Stock Island. Everything in the pipeline right now is beyond Cow Key Bridge, which for most folks makes the housing car dependent. Building workforce or affordable housing where every adult and most teens need their own car to get to work, school and play is nuts because the American Automobile Association (AAA) says that the average cost of owning and maintaining an automobile is nearly $10,000 annually. 

For most people, after housing, transportation is their second biggest expense. In fact, for many households, especially in the suburbs, it is the biggest expense. Emerging research shows that policy makers should look at the combined costs of housing + transportation and look at total affordable living, not just housing when addressing the issue. We go into detail on this in our May 14, 2021 article ”How Better Transit and Bicycle Facilities Can Help Address Affordable Housing.”

For the residents of the Lofts, not being dependent on a car, like those that live beyond Cow Key Bridge, is a bonus. Most of these families can choose to go car-lite (one car per household), if not car-free. That will bring total life affordability way down and is another reason for building housing downtown.

Vote YES on 3.2 on January 18

We urge you to take the time to vote YES on 3.2 on January 18. The housing is desperately needed, and we hope to have shown there are additional benefits to our beloved downtown as well as the future residents of the project by putting the homes on City owned land in Bahama Village. For more information visit the Housing for All Key West website. Early voting has already started at the Supervisor of Elections Office at 530 Whitehead Street, Suite 101. Get out and vote please.

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You can find all the 46+ KONK Life Streets for People column articles here.

Chris Hamilton
Chris Hamilton

A native of the District of Columbia, where for a couple decades+ he led the nationally renown Commuter Services unit for Arlington County, VA’s DOT, Chris has lived in Key West since 2015. He lives car-free downtown and works and volunteers for a couple non-profits.

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