The Monroe County School District is launching an affordable housing project for teachers, a growing trend in Florida and across the nation to attract educators.
KEY WEST, Fla. – The Monroe County School District is forging ahead with its plan to place roughly 150 units of affordable housing on Trumbo Road in Key West and is looking to the state Legislature to help fund the much-needed housing and approve a plan to move the district offices to another location in Key West.
Superintendent Theresa Axford and School Board member Andy Griffiths joined a Monroe County delegation of leaders to celebrate Florida Keys Day in Tallahassee late last month. In addition to the festivities surrounding Florida Keys Day, Axford and Griffiths lobbied state leaders on a request that will enable the development of roughly 150 units of affordable housing for teachers.
In order for the company contracted to develop the project, the district administration building on Trumbo Road has to be demolished. The district is working on a plan to relocate the 52 district employees to the historic Bruce Hall on United Street.
The Trumbo Road project would be one of the largest and most important affordable housing projects in Key West in recent years. For years, residents and elected officials have been discussing various proposals for housing on Trumbo Road.
The school district has partnered with the Miami-based real estate investment and development firm Integra Investments, a company that has a proven track record developing affordable housing in the Keys.
Integra recently completed construction of the 280-unit affordable housing project on Stock Island called Wreckers Cay and 100% of the units have been leased – a critical step in providing much-needed housing to the Lower Florida Keys’ workforce. The Wreckers Cay project is the largest workforce housing community in the Florida Keys in more than 50 years.
The school district would continue to own the Trumbo Road property and lease it to Integra, which would develop the housing and collect the rental payments.
However, the historic Bruce Hall, built in 1925 as an Ecclesiastical Seminary for the Episcopal Church, needs serious renovations, Axford said. That renovation would cost $20 million, according to estimates.
“The building would be a community treasure when renovated and contribute to the historical prestige that the city has throughout the state,” Axford said. “It would not only house school district offices but also have meeting rooms and other amenities for the community.” Axford was in Tallahassee last year also, pushing for assistance with the renovation.
State Rep. Jim Mooney, R-Islamorada, and state Sen. Anna Maria Rodriquez, R-Miami, were able to get $2 million allocated to the project but that’s not enough, according to Axford. Mooney and Rodriguez are supporting the effort this legislative session also.
Axford has been working on this project since she became superintendent and has enlisted the help of state Education Commissioner Manny Diaz, whose support and advice have been instrumental in moving the project forward, she said.
“He can articulate what is needed at Trumbo Point clearly and has been speaking to legislators in Tallahassee to gain their support,” she said.
“He knows that affordable housing is a real need in Monroe County to attract and keep good teachers.” Axford plans to meet with Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez in the near future to gain her support as well. The allocation would be a one-time ask for Monroe County schools.
Since the state contribution to education is capped at only 10% where in other areas the state pays 50% or more for education, it seems little to ask when the taxpayers in Monroe County support 90% of education costs yearly, Axford said.
Axford would like to start construction on the Trumbo Road project as soon as possible and have the housing complete by 2027, she said.
“Key West and the Florida Keys can use as much affordable and workforce housing as we can get them,” Integra Investments principal Victor Ballestas said. “They are not the most profitable projects, but they are important and they feel good doing it. I think we got the recipe right with Wreckers Cay. It’s a model we can now replicate.” The district had 30 qualified teachers who were interested in teaching in Monroe County this year, but none could find housing and did not take the jobs, Axford said.
The district employs 1,500 people, including 600 teachers, while fully staffed, but loses about 100 employees a year, Axford said.
Several years ago, the school district had proposed to build housing on its property abutting the Sugarloaf School, but resistance from neighbors eventually whittled down the project to only 20 units and the project never came to be because cost estimates came in much higher than expected. Those costs would have pushed monthly rental rates above what school officials wanted to offer their staffers.
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