When I started doing research on rental opportunities in Key West long before we moved, I kept seeing one community’s name come up: Peary Court. It looked like an ideal place to live based on the location and open areas, but it had been in the paper for the last several years, the subject of a lot of controversy. We knew coming into it that that would probably be an issue at some point.
The Navy built it in the 90s, and when they decided they didn’t need it anymore, they sold it to a developer for a very low price tag and tax breaks. From what we’ve heard, the original plan was to raze it and put in luxury housing. (The appeal to knocking it down is that there’s a huge amount of open space here – our neighborhood has actual yards, multiple playgrounds, and a big open field that you don’t find anywhere else in Old Town.) But the city fought that up and down because of HARC, so the investors decided to keep it as rentals for the time being. Going back through the newspaper archives, they’ve been fighting the city over the ability to redevelop the neighborhood for years.
Several months before we arrived, they’d relocated people from six units with the intention of remodeling them and either raising the rent much higher (current rent is $2550), or selling them as condos. But those units sat empty and served as suppliers for the maintenance crew – if another unit lost a stove, they took it from the empty unit. People lost screens, and they were told to go over and take one for themselves.
Then we came along, and they’d decided to scrap those plans. We had our pick of the six empty units, and chose the one with the best landscaping (and an end unit, re: more windows). The awesome thing about the maintenance piracy is that we ended up with brand new appliances and air conditioning.
We love it here. We have a private patio, a yard, a covered carport with space for the boats, and 1200 square feet on an island where space is virtually unheard of unless you’re a one-percenter. I have gardening room, and we have plenty of storage. We only have to drive if we’re actually leaving the island – we ride our bikes everywhere, and can walk anywhere in Old Town. (There are a couple of things I dislike, mainly to do with the fact that the military built it. They’re minor.) It’s an ideal spot, and while the rent is ridiculous, it’s actually cheap compared to everything else.
The main problem, though, is that there just *isn’t* much of anything else. There are a couple big apartment communities near the airport that are really nice (and have a pool!), but they’re a lot farther from everything. We’d have to bike instead of walking, and would probably end up driving more often. If you’re smart, you just don’t drive in this city, especially in tourist season. Nothing normal people can afford has this square footage, amount of storage, outdoor space, or location. There just aren’t many houses available to rent – everything is on VRBO and AirBnB for $5,0000+/month.
(Honestly, if I could afford to buy a place in Old Town just for AirBnB purposes, I’d do it too. You would make a killing.)
So the city has decided that in order to prevent the inevitable conversion of this neighborhood into a place only rich people who live here part-time can afford, they should buy it and control the rents. It’s a good idea – they’d be able to cover the $50 million price tag with rents, and nobody would really be out anything. Even though that’s $20 million more than the developers paid, it’s market price and values each unit at $350,000. If *we* could buy this place for $350,000, we’d do it in a second. Hell, we’d buy two and rent one out. There isn’t a single livable property in Old Town for under half a million dollars, and the ones at that price look like murder shacks.
So they’re putting it up for the citizens to vote on as a referendum on the March primary ballot. I don’t know what will happen, but I suspect it won’t pass because they’re doing a terrible job of getting the word out about how it works. It’s all misinformation about the $20 million price increase and people thinking it’s being changed to low-income or subsidized housing. People think the units are falling apart. (They’re not. They could use general maintenance cleanup work, but they’re in good condition, and meet hurricane standards.) What the city is proposing is to cap the rent at a max of $2400 (with a couple other tiers for lower incomes based on the city median income), so that people who actually work in Key West will be able to live here. You still have to make a decent amount of money to afford $2400 rent, but they’re talking about people like police and teachers and local businesspeople. Otherwise everyone with an actual job will be priced out of Key West entirely.
It’s a pretty good plan, and we’re planning to vote in favor of it. You don’t get many chances to prevent rich people from ruining everything, after all. The only problem is that we won’t meet the income standards, so we’ll have to move out at the end of our lease (or one of us will have to quit our job. NOPE). The meeting the other night was the ultimate mental exercise in doing the right thing vs helping yourself. Ugh.
So we’re waiting to see what happens with the vote next month. If it passes we’ll assume we have to be out by Sept 30, unless the current company lets us sneak in another lease before this all goes through. If it doesn’t pass I assume everything will stay as is for a while, but eventually either rents will skyrocket or it’ll be sold and bulldozed for high-end condos stacked on top of each other and sold for $900k. That will force us to move too, but probably in a longer time frame, as we originally assumed.
The good thing is it’s forced us to look at Zillow pretty seriously, and we’ve found that there are more than a few places we’d seriously consider. There’s even one a couple blocks away that would keep us in Old Town, but those kinds of places are incredibly rare. We could probably sublet this place, too (I don’t exactly know the legality of that, but there’s nothing in the lease about it and I know our neighbors have done it). Mostly, though, we’d like to be able to stay here until we’re ready to make a move, and that’s not looking likely at the moment.