County officials sour on homeless shelter deal with Key West



Deal or no deal?

Key West City officials had been heaving a sign of relief since November when they thought they had worked out an agreement with Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay to keep the city-operated homeless shelter in its current location next to the sheriff’s department offices on College Road on Stock Island. In return for leaving the Keys Overnight Temporary Shelter (KOTS) on county property, the city agreed to give the sheriff up to 30 apartments in the 104-unit planned workforce housing development across the street to allocate to staff, helping attract and retain employees in the county law enforcement agency.

But the deal fell off the rails recently when Ramsay found out his deputies would not qualify for the affordable housing development because they make too much money. Lower level sheriff’s department staff would qualify but not the deputies, whose starting salary hovers around $60,000. The maximum salary levels set by a state block grant program that the city is planning to ask to help fund the housing development is just over $47,000 for a single person and $53,000 for a married couple.

“That’s the major wrinkle so far,” Key West Assistant City Manager Greg Veliz told Monroe County Commissioners at their Feb. 20 meeting. “That was the major stumbling block.”

But there is now another wrinkle, too. At the county commission meeting, Veliz and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston heard another complaint: the one-bedroom/one bath apartments currently being designed for the College Road workforce housing development are too small for Ramsay’s staff.

“There are some people who can’t fit into a one-bedroom,” said county Commissioner Danny Kolhage. “This is not much value to the Sheriff as it is now. He had a whole different concept.”

Monroe County Mayor Silvia Murphy was even blunter, accusing city officials of making the sheriff’s department “take a back seat” to KOTS.

“That doesn’t sit right with us,” she said, adding, “You have started but obviously not made a lot of progress in six months.”

Murphy was referring to the one-year deadline county commissioners leveled on the city last September to find a new location for the shelter. Commissioners have promised to kick KOTS off of county land unless a location solution is found. Ramsay has complained for years that he wanted KOTS moved but city officials, unable to find another suitable location, have dragged their feet.

Despite the new setbacks, Veliz and Johnston were optimistic they could find a workaround for the salary limitations. The city is planning on applying for three separate funding sources, including a state Community Development Block Grant for $13 million, another $8 million from the Monroe County Land Authority and the Key West Housing Authority, which is partnering with the city on the project, is authorized to borrow up to $10 million. Only the state block grant has salary limitations for residents, intended to keep the housing development for low and very-low income workers.

“Can we exempt public safety [employees], number one. Then, is there any way to carve out a section,” specifically for sheriff’s deputies in one of the three buildings planned for the development, Veliz said.

“We’ve got options,” Johnston said.

Johnston added that she was open to redesigning some of the apartments in the College Road development into two bedrooms with one or two baths. But Veliz worried that project design is already well under way and the window to change it to include some two-bedroom units – which would reduce the total number of apartments in the project – is closing fast.

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