A recurring issue here in Key West is the availability of affordable housing. The residents complain they can’t afford to live here and the local government can’t get the residents to approve any solutions. So what is the problem?

I guess the first step is we have to agree on a definition of affordable housing. Is it affordable home ownership or reasonable rental prices? Is it for workers who wish to move here, or for the children of the Conchs that can’t afford to move out on their own? Is it for families that need three or four bedrooms or for single bedroom digs for the many singles and couples?

The answer is (depending upon who you talk to) YES! It’s all of the above. So how does this problem get addressed? The answer is, it doesn’t. It simply remains an issue, and actually continues to get worse.

Is the problem only here in the Keys? Many here think it is isolated to their island paradise, but the problem is everywhere. The problem is, however, more noticeable in high demand tourist areas like Key West. But how many people are really affected?

A lot of young people in the 18 to 25 age group come here with a few bucks and a great deal of enthusiasm. Their purpose is usually to escape something; cold weather, parents, an ex, etc., or they are searching for something. So what do they do? They get a job as a table server, boat mate, or even a bartender. They can do pretty well earning tips. Do they have a housing problem? Not if they don’t mind roommates and don’t spend all their money on drugs.

The cost to purchase a home is very expensive. Many of the properties have increased 50-100% in value over the past few years. But that’s not exclusive to Key West. I sold a townhouse in Northern Virginia in 2002 for $150,000. Three years later it resold for $340,000.

Let’s look at rental rates. You can get a one bedroom apartment or small house for $1100 to $1700 per month or a two bedroom for $1500 to $2400, with a one year lease. These are averages. You can find some deals, and there are also more luxurious places that will cost more. But in the suburbs of many cities, prices are about the same. Now if you want to move to a depressed area, you can pay a lot less, but good luck finding a job. Or you can go to any of the large cities and pay a lot more.

I’ve heard the complaints, “I have to work three jobs just to live here”. Many think the answer is that employers should pay more so these people only have to work one job to live here. But then who is going to work those other jobs? More workers will have to take up the slack. And then supply & demand kicks in and we’ll need even more housing, and  prices will go up. It’s a vicious circle!

So my ‘preliminary conclusion’ is that ‘affordable housing’ really is an oxymoron. The ‘virtual reality’ is that the ‘government control’ is ‘pretty ugly’ and we’ll never agree on a ‘politically correct’ solution. I think I’ll go eat some ‘jumbo shrimp’.