Thursday, April 15, 2010

Does any one know the way to Kokomo?

In my current role, which I think of as Conservator, at the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust, I'm starting to really understand the depth of the shortage of affordable workforce housing in Key West.  It's been on the City's agenda for at least five years now, thousands of hours and millions of dollars have been spent to try to ameliorate it, but it never gets better and slowly grows worse.

I had a conversation with a Haitian man today that got me thinking more about this.  He's been in Key West for four years now.  He shares housing with friends even though he's married and has small child.  He came to see me in November, when I first moved in to the BCCLT office to manage affairs for the board of directors, while still a director myself.  He came in to ask about an application for housing that he filed early in 2009.  I managed to find his application, noted that he was income-qualified to rent, and said I would take a look at it once I discovered what might be available.

Since then, he comes in every month to see if anything developed, but it never does.  I have, or soon will have, but two rentable units and both have been committed to other applicants whose applications were older, whose needs were greater, and who were diligent in pursuing their opportunity.

The man from Haiti explained that he is on the waiting list for a unit with the Key West Housing Authority.  Over a year ago he was number ninety-something on the KWHA waiting list.  Lately he's climbed to a number in the sixties.  He only found out about the land trust last year, and he hoped to be able to rent in order to be eligible to work odd jobs that the land trust occasionally hires tenant-members to do perform, either for extra money or to offset some of their rent.

I explained the BCCLT's situation to him and told him that I wasn't at all optimistic that he'd ever make it into one of our apartments or houses.  The Housing Authority will most likely take over all of the BCCLT properties sometime in the next few months, as well as its liabilities, and the BCCLT will fade away after nearly fifteen years of existence, a victim of hard economic times, the loss of several state contracts, and a crumbled organization structure.

He talked of many of his friends, mostly his countrymen, who left Haiti years ago in the midst of political and economic turmoil and have never gone back.  Some came here, took the most menial jobs, and managed to survive for a time, but now, he says, more and more are leaving for brighter shores elsewhere.  We spoke of what a great place this is to live, of the increasing cost of any kind of half-way decent rental housing, the high cost of living generally, and the general lack of work opportunities for anyone lacking specialized skills of some sort.

Key West and Monroe County are trying to census-count just about every living soul in the Keys, even going so far as to dispense with mail-in census questionnaires in favor of a door-to-door-to-campground-to-parked van-to-mangrove stand survey.  There's news developing that questions whether they census takers are getting an actual count or just fudging some numbers.

Between the year 2000, when the census showed about 78,000 Florida Keys residents, including some 27,000 Key West residents, and now, 2010, the population of full-time residents is known to have shrunk, perhaps by as much as 15%, and that affects the amount of money sent from Washington and Tallahassee, for schools, roads, and many other programs.

At some time in the future, the shark will be jumped and the tipping point will be reached, and the place Janet and I have grown fond of will disappear, replaced by ... by ... by what?  And if some things remain, even if only for the tourists, just who will be here to do the work that must be done, in the stores, the restaurants, bars, theaters, the gas stations?  Who will drive the trucks, the buses, sweep the streets, keep the lights on, and the water clean, and the trash removed?

Does anyone know the way to Kokomo?


Key West travel deals said...

I want to say that it isn't possible for the mother to have killed her children and herself is irresponsible. It's very possible. Fact is, good people do bad things. I actually hope this is not the case, but it's just too hard to believe otherwise.

rita said...

We bought a foreclosure on Big Pine late last year and my husband moved down to start.....not repairing, more tearing out the nasty carpet (feral cats had gotten in through a window and had left their marks) and vinyl down to the subflooring, which is nearly rotted. The house is only 31 years old but was not built right; piers every 12' instead of 6', wiring cobbled together and shorting out at the circuit breaker box, a 16' deep deck with no supports underneath. It's a disaster, but it's liveable now that he had a/c installed. We plan to totally redo it once our place in WV sells, but it's been on the market for over 7 months with no takers.

ANYway, Tom got a job as census taker (he's sort of retired, more like unemployed while I finish out the school year in VA and retire in June--to get another job once I move down there) and loved it. Lots of characters in Big Pine. But he's angry about the waste of money and resources that he witnessed, including some people just writing down made-up stuff when they couldn't find someone home the first time they went to the house/trailer/van/boat. People were bused in from Miami--paid from the time they left home, for that 3-hour bus ride each way, and since they could only work 40 hours a week, that meant they "worked" for about 2 hours each day. The people who did the training didn't bother to reserve a conference room in Key West so they had to scramble and had the first day of training on Big Pine Key and the rest in Marathon. One trainee had come from the mainland and was housed in a Key West hotel, paid a per-diem, paid from the time he left his hotel until he returned each day, and paid $.48/mile back and forth to Marathon.

There's much more. Tom did his work diligently, but so many didn't bother. It's a travesty.

But he made enough money to pay the vet bills on our oldest cat, who managed to get very sick around that time......

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