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The Cost of Paradise

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The Cost of Paradise - Our "take" on the local scene
A few editorial tips on what the Chamber of Commerce or your realtor may have forgotten...

Before you relocate to the Keys, here are a few of the things your realtor and Chamber of Commerce may not have  mentioned. As a point in fact, realtors and the Chambers would all disagree with our analysis.

   Property values are rising at a rate that will could double the value of homes in the Keys in the next 5 years, according to the Keynoter, a local newspaper,  in a July 2003 editorial. That was obviously before the bust on 2008. The Marathon city council stated that $ 1,300 is considered affordable rent and a $180,000 house is considered affordable housing. Working stiffs are in real trouble and affordable housing is in a crisis situation. Local government may acknowledge there is a problem, but refuse to take any meaningful action to prevent a crisis. As in other areas of the US, housing sales have took a dive downward and it's ugly, well, not too ugly if you ask a local realtor. But ask quick, there are not nearly as many of them as there were a year ago. The Feds were expecting a Keys-wide sewer system by 2010, that didn't happen, so there is going to be some serious $ problems and hassle, guess who pays for that.

   The only real affordable housing in the Keys are trailers and RV's and the local trailer parks are under real pressure by developers. There are no new ones opening up and in the past year 3 or more have been taken over and the residents thrown out. It gets worser and worser...
   The building/remodeling process will make you buy innumerable permits for anything you do, confusing codes and enforcement will drive you to despair. We also have the code enforcement police, with it's own special court to hang the scofflaws.

Employment-Starting a Business
  Typically, Florida pay rates are lower than just about anywhere and the Keys are in that curve. A lot of restaurant server, cook, hotel housemaid type jobs are always available. The  commercial fishing industry is in tough shape and the tourism / service industries are pretty much it. They have to bus people in to work here. And as for opening a business down here - they may loan you enough money to hang you - be careful, be very careful, all the sharks aren't in the water. A great white would be in trouble with the good ole boy network down here. The current thinking is not to allow national chain-type stores in as the architecture destroys the local ambiance (usually tacky) - Islamorada and Big Pine in particular. This is all designed to keep the locals secure from any worthwhile competition more than anything else.

   This is not a vocation around here - it's a sport. Marathon and Islamorada have recently become cities and the councils are really busy enacting legislation to guarantee paradise. The sole arbiter of qualification for office is your length of living in the Keys - if you haven't lived here for 30 years, you don't know beans and your input or suggestions are never seriously considered or desired. The driving force then and now is development - big real estate and developers run the Keys. Cronyism and outright chicanery have so screwed up the keys infrastructure over the years, they may never get it right. Various Federal/State agencies have had to step in and start dictating what has to be done (i.e., sewers, bldg codes, marine sanctuaries, etc.)

Cops-Law Enforcement
   You will see a lot of cops in the Keys, but only because they have one road to patrol and very few donut shops. Pay scales are low for them as well and the caliber isn't as high as could be. The few contacts we have had with them, they proved to be pretty ineffective, although unfailingly polite. To protect themselves from police abuse, the citizens of Key West had to vote in a police oversight board, the local pols wouldn't do it.
  If you are a party animal and like to drink and drive or speed, kiss your a** goodbye.

  We got the Florida Highway Patrol, we got the Monroe County Sheriff, we got city cops, we got the DEA, we got Marine Patrol, we got the INS, FBI, Border Patrol and who knows what all.......and they all have radios.
   The good thing - low crime, and most of that is small time druggies or minor thefts, the cops
occasionally catch these guys, but only because they (the scofflaws) aren't too bright.
   The local courts are about as bad as can be, very badly managed and run. If you get a ticket, more likely than not, something will screw up on your court appearance - wrong date or time, etc.
   Also, beware of the Conservation officers, they aren't content with checking your fishing license, they like to play junior G-man and run your drivers license, auto tags, insurance etc.- just like the big boys.

In the 2004-2005/2006 seasons we had 8 hurricanes that got our attention, 3 or more called for evacuation. The last one, Wilma provided a storm surge that raised the water levels 6 feet and more in large parts of the lower and middle Keys.  And the next few years call for the same or worse. If you want to live in the Keys, expect to lose your home - it will happen, maybe this season, twice next season, or not for 50 years -your gamble.
Rates for insurance in Florida have skyrocketed and are truly daunting.

Census Notes:
While most southern Florida counties are growing in double digit percentage numbers, Monroe County showed a growth in population of only 2% from 1990 to 2000, well under the norm. They really can't get a lot more people down here without bursting, and with so little room to grow, they have to expand the existing housing stock to a higher value property. Everything that can be converted to condos is getting converted.
That means affordable housing is in deep trouble. When the cities and counties live or die by tax revenue, a $30,000 trailer doesn't give as much revenue as a $300,00 house, and that is a cold, hard reality to local pols....

Awareness vs. Action

Recent reports from various agencies and researchers indicate that the reefs have degraded as much as 50% in the past 30 years. Most in the past 10 or so.
There have been restrictions on ships dumping sewage and waste but none on the dive operators, charter boats or other tourist related business. The marine sanctuary was also created and while a positive, still has a long way to go to protect the reefs and surrounding waters. The commercial fishing industry, especially lobster fishermen have had trap reductions in the 50% range in the past 7 or 8 years while the diving and charter business have had no reductions. The sportsfishing guides are so good, we are amazed there are any fish left. They do practice catch and release a great deal - smart move on their part.

The Feds have demanded action on sewer systems capable of properly handling local demand by 2010. Beaches like South Beach, Smathers Beach and Higgs Beach in Key West and Founders Park in Islamorada and Pennekamp in Key Largo are often under warnings for poor water quality after semi-monthly testing for fecal-based bacteria. Key West recently installed a sewer system and has made some strides, but still has major problems with groundwater run-off.
The new sewer system?  Not going to happen on time or even close, there will be lawsuits, fines and BS a bunch - wanna guess who will end up paying the piper? Buy a house down here and find out.

Tourists vs. Locals
No clue on what to do about this war. Locals blame everything on the tourists, and the tourists have no clue there is a problem. A local is defined as someone who moved down here yesterday and doesn't want anyone else moving down today and spoiling things. (Typical of all of Florida, not just the Keys.)

Our assessment
This is going to cost an arm and a leg to fix the number one problem -sewers - get it done before there is nothing left to fix.


This page last updated: 05/14/2011