Keys residents living on boats say Monroe County is unfairly booting them out

(WSVN) - Living on boats is a way of life for many in the Keys, and for decades, one area has been especially popular for the boaters. But now, they said the county is forcing them out. 7’s Brian Entin investigates.

It is almost like a local secret.

You would never know this is behind the Monroe County government building in Key Largo: a beautiful bay called Tarpon Basin.

For decades, it has been a popular spot for people who live on boats.

Kenny Stanley and his wife Monica took us on their dinghy out to their motor yacht named License to Chill.

Kenny Stanley, lives on boat: “In a house, this would be called the living room, but on a boat, on a yacht, it’s called the salon.”

They’ve lived on the boat for 16 years.

Kenny Stanley: “We have cruised up and down the East Coast six times, and it is one of our favorite places.”

Roughly 70 people live on boats out here.

They’re called “live-aboards.”

They use their dinghies to travel to a public dock behind the county building.

It’s the only public dock in the area, and the only way the live-aboards can get to shore to shop and work.

But their lifestyle is about to change because the county will not allow them to use the public dock anymore.

Kenny Stanley: “We can’t get to shore. We can’t live here because all the rest of it is private property. We can’t go motoring up to somebody’s house.”

Last month, Monroe County passed an emergency ordinance to stop the boaters from pulling their dinghies up to the dock.

The county said there have been problems in the area, like excessive littering, drunk people and too many boaters parking in the county government lot.

Ian Coltina, lives on boat: “Typically, you don’t punish the whole neighborhood for the actions of three people. If they are doing something illegal, then you arrest them.”

Now, the county has posted signs saying the effective date is April 15. The people who live on these boats here said that does not give them very much time to figure out where they will go next.

Brian Entin: “Where will you go when this closes?”

Roger Fritchman, lives on boat: “I don’t know. There are hardly any places to actually land.”

Affordable housing has been harder to find in the Keys after Hurricane Irma, which is why some people have ended up living on boats.

There are children and disabled veterans.

Patrick Willyard, lives on boat: “It is impossible in the Keys. Places in the Keys pay $15 an hour. Let’s just rough numbers, right? A cheap studio apartment, not counting utilities, electricity and all that, will be $1,500 a month. You can’t do it.”

Monroe County Mayor David Rice told 7News things have been going downhill in Tarpon Basin for a decade, and this was their only option.

Because it is classified as an emergency ordinance, the law goes into effect without a public hearing or citizen input.

Kenny Stanley: “Absurd that there is no communication with the boaters.”

Monica Ybarbo, lives on boat: “It really saddens me. To me, this is absolutely beautiful here, and I see no troubles from anybody.”

The boaters in this floating Keys neighborhood said moving on from the place they call home won’t be easy.

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