Monroe County has officially gotten a boost in funding for affordable housing

Monroe County Mayor Holly Merrill Raschein joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

The proposal to have Monroe County use excess TDC funding for affordable housing has passed the governor’s office.

Raschein said, “The governor signed it. Gosh, I think it was last week, maybe the previous week. We were anticipating that. We hadn’t heard any issues with him proving that bill. It was a priority for us at the commission and I think it’s a priority for the community. We hear every day from business owners and families that housing is a difficulty. It’s one of those things that if you don’t have a safe house and affordable house, it’s really hard to live and work here raise a family. So we as a community experienced that one time, major pop, sort of an anomaly with tourists, during the pandemic. So there was this pot of money kind of just sitting there in the TDC account and we thought we were going to be bold. We’re going to present this new idea. Often any tweaks or changes to the bed tax, a different use, so to speak, is met with a lot of opposition. So we worked very closely with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, and our local chapter as well and just sort of explained we’re not going to come back and do this again anytime soon. This is a one time deal and here’s what we’re going to do with it. So through a lot of advocacy and conversations and discussions and answering questions, we were able to get it over the finish line. Now some real work begins because folks are now asking, well, how are you going to spend it? What qualifies somebody as a tourism employee? A lot of people would say, well, anyone, right? Because tourism is our number one industry, the backbone of our economy here. So we’re going to sit down and start to figure that out. Obviously calling on the industry and making sure that we take a very measured approach. We’re not willy nilly. These are these are taxpayer dollars. We need to do it right. So I’m excited about those conversations, and I’m even more excited about the housing we’re going to be able to build with that funding.”

Would it be a public/private partnership?

Raschine said, “I would imagine, yes. Projects of this magnitude, take those sort of partnerships. Then we need to identify the locations, right? I imagine we’ll spread the love and really prioritize areas that really need it. The Lower Keys, they need some. A lot of folks commute from Sugarloaf or Summerland or Rockland. Then obviously, in the Upper Keys, we have to bus in our workers. So there’s a need up there. I know Marathon is experiencing a major workforce housing needs. So I’m excited about those conversations and I’m very grateful and thankful that the governor signed the legislation. I’m really encouraged by the collaboration and the cooperation we got from the industry and a lot of folks said it couldn’t be done, but you give us a task in the Keys and we’re going to get it done.”

The Florida Department of Transportation Small County Outreach grant was also procured, which will fund about 75% of the Key Largo roadway and drainage project.

Raschein said, “We actually have another project that has already commenced and has been going on for a number of months from 97 to 100. I actually just drove through it a few minutes ago and it’s amazing the amount of work that they can accomplish without upsetting the traffic flow. They’ve really kept that to a minimum during the school months, they were able to make sure the buses were arriving on time. These are badly needed infrastructure projects. We’re ground zero for sea level rise, were experiencing flooding all over the Keys. We’re a very thankful partner and a good partner with the Florida Department of Transportation, and I commend our team. They’re aces at writing grants, and seeking out money that’s out there and available, and making sure that we get some of that down in the Keys.”

Today is Flag Day.

Raschein said, “It’s a good day. I meant to mention a couple of things that are going on down in Key West. First off, it is qualifying day. So everyone is kicking off their campaigns. Then I Love Stock Island festival is going to be today. I’m excited about that. Before that we have a neat group that is coming down from Key Biscayne. They have kayaked through this weather from Key Biscayne and they are going to be finishing at Simonton Beach in Key West this afternoon. It’s Castaways for Cancer. It’s a group of hearty folks that have paddled I don’t even know, 100-something miles to raise money for cancer prevention and cures.”

The Rate of Growth Ordinance continues to be a topic of discussion.

Raschein said, “This is serious. This is a very important conversation that we’re having community wide up and down the Keys. We’re charting the course forward on what it looks like in terms of building in the Keys, conservation, workforce housing versus market rate. The surveys are extremely easy to take. They’re very brief, but they’re to the point. Kimberly has done an amazing job of really drilling down on the data, and the input that we’re looking for to make these critical decisions. There’s a QR code on the website, there’s a link to the website, Kimberly is traveling around to numerous community organizations making her presentation. A big part of this is education. People know what ROGO means, sort of. It’s pretty complicated. But what she’s finding out is that there’s a lot of misinformation that comes with these topics. But just a lot of folks aren’t informed. So she’s taking this opportunity to educate our community and our residents and our businesses. So it’s really a holistic approach and we’re not going to be making these decisions in a vacuum. We’re not going to be making them on our own. This is a community decision. This isn’t just five people saying, okay, this is the way it’s going to be, we’re going to have this many market rate, this many affordable, we’re going to conserve this many and what does that look like in terms of our evacuation time? If we keep it at 24, that’s going to be tough. We’re going to face some issues. What is a safe way to maybe bump that up? That might not be a popular idea, but that might be the reality that we face. When you put all the components together, like, I’m sorry, but people in Key West, they don’t often evacuate. The Conchs, they’re weathered, they’re storm hardy, they hunker down and a lot of folks do that in the Keys. We build fortresses here out of concrete and hurricane windows. So it’s interesting when you consider all the variables, so that conversation is ongoing, but come fall, we’ll need to put some things down on paper.”

An expansion of in person services for the Veterans Affairs is taking place.

Raschein said, “Her and her team are an amazing, many of them are former veterans themselves. We have a high rate actually of veterans. I was at a Memorial Day ceremony on Memorial Day in Islamorada at the hurricane monument and the Daughters of the American Revolution, had a very touching ceremony where they asked all Vietnam vets that were in the area to come up, receive a pen, let us know where they served when they served, and what branch they served in. There was a big turnout. Then we had another ceremony in Key Largo at the Nelson Center and it’s amazing to see the support for our veterans in our community. We don’t only recognize them during these holidays, we recognize them year round and Kathy and her team do a great job making sure that they get the services that they need.”