I was attracted to Key West because it seemed to be an island of independents, certainly not all of them honorable, but definitely writing the script according to their experiences. Maybe I'm naive, but it seemed many Key Westers had come to the island by shrugging off the work & consumer mentality. Consumerism was the last thing on people's minds. Yes, there were many hard working families trying to make a better life for themselves. But they were not so driven that they couldn't enjoy life in the process. And they still lived at island speed. They lived here because island life made sense to them, maybe in their blood. The manana attitude was the norm.
I bought my bike, a Conch Cruiser with fat tires and a basket assembled from many other bike's parts, for thirty dollars on the beach and have had it for six years. In my neighborhood, parking was abundant since most people didn't have a car. With an island 2 miles by 4 miles, and no need to rush, why not ride the bike. But today is different. There is no parking spots open nearly every day and Elizabeth Street looks like a new car showroom. These are the cars of the snowbirds and those that sold some of their real estate. There is a project being built called Watermark. It promises a "decadent" and "luxurious" Key West residence with concierge service and "splendid" service. Ridiculous. Enjoying island life shouldn't require a servant. You need a t-shirt and flip flops. Wear some buttons if you want to dress up, but if Key West attracted you because of it's funky laid back attitude then how does a decadent and luxurious experience help. Just ask the Bahamians that have lived here for two hundred years.
My old apartment down the street, on of four in a large house, was bought by a speculator two years ago and renovated into a one-family McMansion. It was bought for 1.2 million, and is on the market for 2.75 million. Across the street, the same realtor is advertising a five apartment building that is "ripe for condo conversion". Rest well tonight tenants.
So, the Sunday morning depression sets in. Where will we live? Clearly we can't afford to buy a place. The clock on our Key West days is ticking. Just another working couple forced to leave. All the while, the mayor Jimmy Weakly, is oblivious to the magnitude of the problem. Or maybe he thinks that the Czech workforce that lives eight to a bedroom can replace all of us. But they can't. Some jobs actually require an education and mastery of the english language. Police, nurses, teachers, are finding it impossible to afford to live here. The police dept. operates with a double digit shortage of cops. They blame housing as the issue.
This rant of mine was sparked by the morning headline of a hotel conversion. Developers have bought another hotel and are converting it into .58 units of luxury condominiums. Tourist businesses are worried about their future. But in me, it reminds me of the rental apartments in Key West that are being bought to evict, renovate, and re-sell as a condominium for +$500,000. Or some four-apartment houses are being bought up and converted to single-family mansions. The process is rampant causing the housing shortage for the workers to increase.
An announcement to those that think you can buy your way into an interesting community: You can't. The currency you should spend is good personality and island sensibility. That is the barrier to entry. When the Key West housing bubble bursts or one hurricane hit's, you should remember that.
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