For the rest of us, it’s real life. Wanna see how developers down here in the Keys play the system? Wanna see how people’s lives get ruined for no other reason than because they are in the way? C’mon along and see how it’s done. And rest assured, if it can happen here, it can happen anywhere. Let us begin.
Up on Big Pine Key, about 30 miles before you get to Key West, back in the recesses of the north end of the island sits a little rv park known as Seahorse Trailer Park. Some people come and go as the seasons come around but quite a few parked their rv’s there and stayed. Some for nearly a decade. The place has gone down hill, as most places in the Keys eventually do. Mold, mildew, salt, and other rot sets in, so the rv’s tend to look a bit ragged over the years. No matter. People still own them, live in them, pay a very affordable rent to the park, and go about their lives.
But, all good things must end, and over the recent holidays, said residents, about 50 in all, got a nice present from the park…Eviction notices. They all have to be gone by the end of February. Why, you may ask? Is it because the park is not up to the standards of what others feel such a place should be? Well, maybe in some small way, but there are more nefarious things going on behind the scenes. And they involve something called ROGO.
What is ROGO? ROGO is the rate of growth ordinance. It was passed by the powers that be in the Keys to control overdevelopment of unincorporated areas of the islands. The spirit of the law was to protect the waterways, plant and animal life, and maintain the way the Keys should look without covering every square inch in condos. The way it works is like this. If you own a piece of property in the Keys, in someplace other than Key West or any of the smaller cities, and you want to build on said property, you need to acquire a ROGO allocation to do so. Only so many are given out each year, and very soon, if not already, no more will be given out. Which means if you do not have a ROGO, you cannot build on your property.
To get an allocation takes a very long time. It’s complicated and expensive. You can get points for things like promising to build a green building, adding in solar, things like that. Or promising not to cut down mangroves or otherwise harm existing plants and wildlife. But, it takes forever to get one of these allocations and chances are your grandchildren will still be fighting to build on property you purchased. Unless you happen to be very wealthy. Then the games begin.
One way to get on the fast track for an allocation is by doing a bit o’ horse tradin’. Say, for example, you have two lots. Rather than try to build on both, you can turn the property back over to the county in exchange for moving the allocation for that property onto your other lot. It happens all the time. Developers who want to build a condo or such and need ROGO’s to do so, find other properties they can buy on the cheap with ROGO allocations, trade said property back and transfer the allocations into their project. So guess what happened to Seahorse Trailer Park? Go ahead, guess.
A certain marina down here on Stock Island, no, that one, not that one either, has been rebuilding said marina into a major resort. They recently put in new docks and have permits now for a big hotel complex. But in order to build they need ROGO’s, lots of them. So, they sent their minions out into the wilderness of the Keys to look for property that could be bought on the cheap, and traded for the allocations. And indeed, they found such a place at Seahorse. They bought up the park, made a deal with the county, and got their allocations. But to do so meant kicking out the residents, which they did. So, at the expense of making 50 people homeless, some greedy developers got one step closer to making their resort a reality.
The residents have banded together to fight back, but it’s a losing cause. The deal is done, everyone from the developers to the county smells money, and those who are going to be homeless will have no choice but to move someplace else. For many, it means leaving the Keys as they won’t be able to find anything else affordable down here.
You can argue that the park was in poor condition and needs some fixin’ up. You can argue that those living in rv’s were breaking the law. (Unbeknownst to me, it’s apparently illegal to live in a rv more then 6 months here in the Keys. A law that is not enforced all that much that I can see.) And you can argue that developers are adding to the coffers of the county by building their little palaces resulting in more property taxes, useless service jobs, and another place for the rich to come and hang out in the Keys whilst they plot more mischief against the poor.
But it was a shitty thing to do to 50 human beings. No matter how you look at it, 50 people have had their lives uprooted, because they don’t live up to the standards of others. The very laws put into place to protect the islands from over development were manipulated to favor those with money and power. This is the way things are now. You either play the game, or get swept under the rug. And it’s only gonna get worse.
All us Baby Boomers are starting to retire. Those who made wise financial decisions and have money are going to start looking for warm places to live. The Keys, all of Florida, Central America, Hawaii, and maybe even now Cuba will be on their radar. The demand for more housing down here will increase, and with it, higher rents, and less affordable places. RV parks will be catering to the high end motor homes and snow birds. Marinas will not be letting the likes of my little scow to stay much longer. $1000 a month will barely get you a room with 3 or 4 other idiots in a house. The rich don’t give a Norwegian rodent’s posterior about your housing issues. They want you to come in, clean the rooms, wait the tables, run the tours, and go away at the end of the day. If you don’t have money, you ain’t welcome.
I have no illusions about what is going on around here. I knew coming down that my ability to stay in Key West would be limited. Unless my income starts to climb considerably, and I doubt that it will, I fully expect to get kicked out of the marina where I currently reside sometime in the not so distant future. It’s why I am striving to get rid of the boat and be as mobile as possible when said time comes. It sounds paranoid but I’ve seen too much of what is going on here since I moved here. The unpleasantness of what happened at my previous residence opened my eyes to what is happening in the Keys. We on the bottom rungs are being pushed out. We are not wanted here. We don’t live up to the standards of the rich and powerful. They are in control and have the ability to make life so miserable for those they do not want that we have no choice but to leave.
The game is rigged for those with the money. The only way us po’ folk can battle back is to not be in a position where the rich can hurt us. If you don’t own something, it cannot be taken away. If you don’t have any emotional attachment to a place, it’s way more easier to pack up and go see what is on the next island. That is my mindset now. As much as I love Key West and the Keys, the time will come quickly enough when I will have to leave. And when I do, the chances of me coming back here to live will be very small. But I’m ok with all that. There is still plenty of planet left to see, even if I want to stick to the tropic zones.
Use this as a warning. What happened with the people at that trailer park can happen anywhere. If a developer or corporate warlord sees something that they want, and you are standing between them and said thing, they will get rid of you without mercy. They do not care. We are nothing to the rich. Of no more use than a hammer or a broom. They do not care if we live or die. They prefer that we die. But only after we clean up their shit and make their beds. Do not allow them to control your life. Do not give them anything they can take from you. Keep as little as you need and constantly be looking for other places and adventures to experience.
The rich do not need us. But we do not need them.