March 7, 2018

KEY LARGO — A combination of economic conditions and housing regulations conspired recently to force about 10 families out of their town homes at Keys Lake Villas, a workforce rental housing complex at mile marker 106, according to the property’s management company.

Rob Piezon, chief executive officer of Cambridge Management, said the leases for five young couples and four senior citizens could not be renewed because the renters either failed to meet the qualifying income limits or exceeded the earnings threshold, which are stipulations required of workforce housing units by Monroe County.

In one case, a couple exceeded the moderate income level cap, which is 120 percent of median income, meaning they earned more than $98,918 last year.

“They were making a ton of money,” Piezon said.

A couple earning between $77,722 and $98,918 qualifies to reside in moderate rate workforce housing under the county planning department’s 2017 updated qualifying income limits. A single person earning between $68,006 and $86,554 also qualifies.

Others who were required to leave found work outside of Monroe County after Hurricane Irma, which also disqualified them from housing since 70 percent of their earned income wasn’t from a local business.

“In some of the renter’s situation, it’s really unfortunate, but these were people that made more than 70 percent of their income outside of Monroe County,” Piezon said. “And in our agreement with the county to provide workforce housing, this is the rule.

“I think quite a few renters lost their jobs after the hurricane and found work north. They couldn’t find work here.”

Switching roommates or adding a third person can also pose problems if the household’s total income exceeds the cap or if one of the tenants works outside the county and makes more money than the others, he said.

Piezon said not being able to renew leases for the senior citizens was the most troubling for him.

“These are elderly people living off their Social Security checks. I don’t know where they’re going to be able to go,” he said. “But there’s nothing I can do, my hands are tied.”

If a senior citizen is living off retirement funds and Social Security, they still need to work and earn 70 percent of their income inside the county to qualify for workforce housing, according to Monroe County Assistant Attorney Christine Hurley.

“Otherwise, they can apply for affordable housing, which doesn’t restrict the income on being earned within the county,” she said.

Monroe County officials acknowledge the critical need for affordable and workforce housing, which has escalated since Hurricane Irma.

According to Monroe County Housing Authority’s statistics, Key Largo’s population is 10,496, of which 60 percent are rent overburdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of gross income on rent, and the median household income is $56,805.

The Housing Authority has closed its Section 8 Choice Vouchers Program waitlist indefinitely given the lack of available housing. This is the federal government’s primary program for providing housing to Americans who are living in poverty, as well as the elderly and disabled.