Saturday, January 14, 2006

Spec-flation & Brewing Class War Boils Over at Key West City Commision Meeting

It's a shame what is happening to Key West. Apparently, the island isn't alone. Steep real-estate price increases, as a result of highly-leveraged investment buying, let's call it "spec-flation" (short for speculative-inflation) has many communities across the country pricing out the residents who called those places home.
Maybe no neighborhood is more greatly affected than Key West. The town is unique, mainly because it lays 90 miles offshore of mainland Florida. As a result, Key West's resources are limited to whatever can be kept on the island. And this makes for a serious problem: all real estate in Key West is unaffordable to the working class on the island, and as a result, workers are leaving in droves.
The local classified ads reveal how deep the problem has become. Alongside ads for houses for sale of at least $500,000, are columns and columns of ads from employers and businesses looking for workers. Many of the businesses have multiple openings Some seem to be advertising for nearly every position at the business.
Well, finally this has affected me. The house we live in, leased from a friend for a reasonable rent, has sold to yet another out-of-town real estate speculator who seems little interested in the community and more interested in the killing she hopes to make in the "investment". As a matter of fact, she has offered us a lease at twice our previous rent. There is no rent control. There are no safeguards. The city is utterly at a loss about what to do. Most of the houses in Old Town Key West sit empty for most of the year: trophies for someone to brag about.
Maybe the most dramatic thing is that the speculators seems to have little inkling that the market can work against them...and it will. Markets are still markets, and inevitably, regress towards the mean. But Florida being Florida, home to land swindles, time share shenanigans, and shady politics, few seem offended or mind the lessons of history.
As a community, Key West will have difficulty functioning without workers. Real estate price inflation isn't all good news for property owners in the Keys. It is also guaranteeing that costs will soar for Key West and Monroe County, and that will be passed along to property owners in the form of much higher taxes. Also, every good and service on the island will become more expensive as businesses are forced to pay much much more per employee...that is, if they can find one.
There is one community on the island that is trying to keep their neighborhood from being destroyed by spec-flation. Bahama village, home to Key West's Bahamain community, is fighting to defend it's low-income neighborhoods from their very rich neighbors in Truman Annex (a property that was once a part of Bahama Village and, to many residents, was unjustly taken from them).
Somehow the residents of Truman Annex feel it is their right to barricade themselves in, closing off the streets to the ultra-rich gated community. Problem is that there is a state park, Fort Zachary Taylor, that is accessed via Truman Annex. The Truman Annex Master Property Owners Association (TAMPOA), want the traffic to be diverted into Bahama Village, and have callously threatened the city with lawsuits should officials not cower to their demands.
Bahama village resident showed up in force at Tuesday's City Commission meeting, which began with TAMPOA attorneys threatening the Commissioners with huge lawsuits should they not go along with their demands. Fortunately, Bahama Village residents showed up in big numbers and each gave an impassioned speech about why the "Masters" should rethink things...let alone the offensiveness of including the word "Master" in their name.
When it was finally handed over to the City Commissioners, one by one, and to their credit, they lashed out at the Truman Annex leaders and lawyers. Commissioners roasted the idea that Truman Annex should be allowed to islolate itself and a part of Key West from the rest of the community. "Open the gates and let the light shine in", "It's time for Truman Annex to be a part of this community", and my favorite, was Commissioner Rossi explaining that whatever Truman Annex residents thought was paradise (a gated version of Key West), they are dead wrong and need to rethink things.
Key West is supposed to be an open community. Unfortunately, more and more, it has turned into something exclusionary.
The problems are only beginning for the City of Key West with Truman Annex. The president of TAMPOA is Tom Tukey, a newer, super-rich resident that became famous on the island last year when he and his wife were ordered by a judge to return a cat they took from Key West and brought to Maine. The Tukeys turned most Key West resident's stomachs when they wouldn't return a cat that clearly had an owner. The Tukeys hired lawyers and put the rightful owner through an awful ordeal. I'm sure the City of Key West will now see that nasty Tukey spirit pointed at them. Here come the lawyers.
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Anonymous said...

you are very naive if you think that the suit by tampoa was unnecessary. you can't negotiate without trust and with the city abrogating their agreement they killed any trust that was there. the courts will determine who is right. shame on the commissioners (esp. commissioner lopez) for their devisive and hate spirited speeches which pander to the mob mentality. shame on the press for enflaming a false issue by bringing race and class warfare into the mix. there is a rule of law and the city will have to follow it.
truman annex owns and maintains southard st. not the city. no one would allow a legal agreement to be abrogated without consequenses. why doesn't the city work within the agreement to restrict traffic rather than propose 425 parking spaces in the waterfront and create 60000 sq ft of commercial space at the waterfront.
if the city choses eminent domain they will need to pay for the ungating of truman annex and that has a clear studied value. the value of ungating a community decreases the value of that community by about 10%. eminent domain requires the taking agency to pay for the cost of the taking as well as all legal fees. this may make the duck tours cost pale in comparison.

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