October 22, 2018
Hurricane Irma’s wrath, which destroyed or severely damaged more than 4,000 homes, appeared to have been enough to drive a significant number of people out of the Florida Keys.
Every Keys city and the unincorporated areas of Monroe County experienced a drop in population between 2017 and 2018, according to an annual study by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.
Marathon’s population declined the most per population, a 6.2 percent drop, going from 8,775 in 2017 to 8,235 in 2018, according to the study.
Both the population of unincorporated Monroe County and the city of Islamorada dropped by 5.3 percent from 2017 to 2018. The county population dropped by 1,936 from 36,202 in 2017 to 34,266, according to the estimates. The population of Islamorada dropped by 336 residents from 6,326 in 2017 to 5,990 in 2018.
The area from Big Pine Key to Cudjoe Key and Marathon were the hardest hit areas of Hurricane Irma. The county estimated that more than 4,000 homes in the unincorporated Monroe County alone were destroyed or severely damaged by Irma.
Key West, which was sparred the wrath of Irma, lost 88 people from 2017 to 2018, going from 24,597 in 2017 to 24,509 in 2018, the study stated.
The population of Key Colony Beach declined by 5.6 percent going from 803 in 2017 to 758 in 2018, according to the survey. Layton experienced lowest level of decline, going from 186 in 2017 to 182 in 2018, according to study.
Overall, the total population of the Keys dropped by 2,949, or 3.8 percent, going from in 76,889 2017 to 73,940 in 2018.
The state Legislature contracts with the Bureau of Economic and Business Research to do the study, which has done the study officially since the 1970s, according to Rich Doty, who oversees the study.
“This was not specifically done for Irma,” Doty said.
The study is done by using census data and calculations and ratios of utility bills, Doty said.
The Keys were already experiencing a workforce housing crisis prior to Irma and the Category 4 hurricane only exacerbated the problem.
The Monroe County School District reported a decline of about 140 students, according to schools Superintendent Mark Porter. However, the declines in enrollment were on Stock Island and Key West, not Big Pine and Sugarloaf keys.
Porter called it a “bad omen,” and is concerned the decline is because of the rising housing costs and lack of affordable housing.
“There is a gentrification of trailer parks going on and that housing is not being replaced,” Porter said. “That housing is disappearing and a lot of workers are not able to live here anymore.”