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St. Peter parishioner promotes affordable housing initiative

BIG PINE KEY | Maggie Whitcomb, seasonal parishioner at St. Peter the Fisherman Church here, said Hurricane Irma was the worst natural disaster she ever experienced, apart from the impact of Hurricane Katrina on her native Gulf Coast in 2005.

She has watched as the local Sunday congregation gathering temporarily in an outdoor pavilion has lessened in the year since Irma. Efforts to find and create new housing for the local worker population have been slow, compounding the Keys recovery efforts in general.

Maggie Whitcomb, founder of the Florida Keys Community Land Trust, speaks at the dedication of the first of four Keys Cottages, permanent, affordable housing for workers in the Keys, this past August.

Photographer: COURTESY

Maggie Whitcomb, founder of the Florida Keys Community Land Trust, speaks at the dedication of the first of four Keys Cottages, permanent, affordable housing for workers in the Keys, this past August.

As a response, Whitcomb and her family used their own resources and property holdings to create the Florida Keys Community Land Trust, an effort to quickly develop affordable housing for working residents of the Middle and Lower Keys.

“There is nowhere for these people to go; if you are in the Keys and that is where your life is, you are pretty much stuck,” she said, noting that some families have resorted to living in cars, tents and emergency trailers provided by the federal government.

Whitcomb, who lives part of the year in Georgia, said she hopes to convert as many hurricane-damaged homes as possible into affordable housing units, with four such units completed or near completion.

“I just made this (charity) up: I wasn’t working at the time of the storm, so I started researching the community land trust model and realized this is area may be redeveloped and then where will these people go?”

Whitcomb owns an additional 20 properties throughout the region but is frustrated more of the area’s business owners aren’t stepping up to help solve the housing shortage.

“I have a family right now, a married couple with a coffee shop on Big Pine, who will be leaving their temporary home in two weeks and I would like to put them in one of my houses, but I am still waiting for a certificate of occupancy,” Whitcomb said. “It all takes so long, and the church has experienced some of the same problems of waiting for permits and approvals the bureaucracy is difficult, and asking people to wait when they really can't wait.”

For more information see: http://www.affordablekeys.org/affordapalooza.

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