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DeSantis Signs Affordable Housing Bill

SB 1456 allows Monroe County to use tourism development funding for affordable housing. If successful, other counties may pursue similar legislation.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a bill that will help create more affordable housing in the Florida Keys.

The bill, SB 1456, allows surplus Monroe County Tourist Development Council (TDC) funding to be used for affordable housing on a one-time basis and also includes language that would help facilitate the construction of more than a dozen affordable housing units for sale on the Truman Waterfront in Key West.

The state Legislature during the past session approved SB 1456, and the governor signed it last week, allowing the county to use surplus TDC funds for affordable housing. Currently, there is roughly $35 million in surplus local TDC funds that could be used for housing.

Last month, the Monroe County Commission approved amending the TDC Operations Manual to add provisions as needed in anticipation of SB 1456 becoming law effective July 1, which will revise provisions relating to the special public facilities projects policy.

Two years ago, the Florida Legislature changed regulations to allow TDC funding to go toward capital projects called "public facilities." Such projects have to be recommended by the TDC board, not the smaller, individual District Advisory Committees.

Last year, county commissioners approved amending the Tourist Development Plan of the Monroe County Code and the TDC Operations Manual to allow the $35 million TDC funding to go to "public facilities," which in the future could go toward the creation of affordable housing.

Monroe County is the first county in the state to use it, but representatives from other counties have discussed the idea. Monroe County's success this year could motivate other counties to pursue similar legislation.

Monroe County Commissioner Craig Cates proposed using surplus TDC funds for affordable housing projects. Cates has some ideas for housing proposals, but has yet to publicly announce any possible projects. The bill comes as the Florida Keys have become one of the most expensive places in the country to live, and employers are struggling to recruit and maintain workers, as the Keys has some of the highest rents and mortgages in the state.

"I want to thank everybody who made this possible," Cates said. "These funds will be used Keys-wide. The TDC and the County Commission will start looking at ways to use the funding and will be thinking outside of the box to have the most effective use of the funds. This is a one-time funding source."

Also, the legislation includes language to make sure mobile homes and the City of Key West remain in the state's hurricane evacuation model, and language that would help facilitate the construction of more than a dozen affordable housing units for sale on the Truman Waterfront in Key West called The Lofts at Bahama Village.

The Lofts consist of 98 affordable rental units and an additional 28 units available for purchase to residents making $160,000 per year or less.

Roughly 14 of the two- and three-bedroom ownership units are priced at between $635,000 to $705,000, which is about $300,000 to $350,000 more than the city wants to charge per unit. The city wants to use money from the Land Authority, but that would require that the homeowners re-qualify for income limits on an annual basis because of the current Land Authority laws.

The state legislation that the governor signed, and becomes law July 1, would only require income qualification at the time of the sale.

The Key West city commissioners briefly discussed the legislation and the use of TDC funding at their meeting on Thursday. Commissioner Clayton Lopez proposed using some of that funding to partner with the owners of the Casa Marina Resort for workforce housing on the resort's property.

Commissioner Jimmy Weekley reminded the commission that 60% of the TDC funds are collected within city limits and the TDC housing money should be doled out accordingly. The commissioners plan to further discussed possibilities for use of the funding with its city manager, they said.

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