Thousands of homes in the Keys were damaged or destroyed in Hurricane Irma. A new community of storm-strong cottages is coming to the rescue.

By Marisa Spyker
September 19, 2018
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Many people might think of the Florida Keys and envision margaritas and lounge chairs, sandy feet and sunburns from spending one too many hours out by the resort pool. And rightfully so—the Keys are a vacation paradise. But they’re also home to thousands of people who support the tourism industry and live modestly in a place where median housing prices top $550,000.

When Hurricane Irma swept through the archipelago just over a year ago, it was many of these people who were affected. Now, a new land trust aims to help some get back into homes—ones that will stand up to the next Irma or Florence for years to come.

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The Florida Keys Community Land Trust was created by Margaret Whitcomb and her husband Richard, part-time residents of the Keys who wanted to help the area recover after Irma. They donated a million dollars to form the trust, and with help from local housing groups, bought a parcel of land on Big Pine Key back in December. Their idea? Create a new, permanent community of sustainable, storm-resistant, and inexpensive cottages.

“The community land trust is a solution to create affordable housing and keep it affordable forever,” Gladys Cook, a technical advisor for the Florida Housing Coalition, told Curbed in an interview. “They’re replacing lost workforce housing and preventing new developments from being market rate.”

Related: The 10 Most Disastrous Hurricanes in U.S. History:

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To design the cottages, they enlisted architect Marianne Cusato, who completed a similar model of storm-strong, affordable cottages in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Dubbed the Florida Keys Cottages, the 760-square-foot tiny homes blend various Caribbean-inspired styles to match the aesthetic of the area’s cottages.

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To contend with hurricane-force weather, each cottage is built up on stilts for flood protection and constructed with structural insulated panels (SIPs) for strength and energy efficiency. Completed, the homes are able to withstand 200 MPH winds.

The first of the Florida Keys Cottages was just unveiled, with eight more expected to follow by January. Once complete, the cottages will be rented to tenants making 80 percent of median area income. The Land Trust hopes to purchase additional property and expand the availability of Florida Key Cottages soon.

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