"Monroe County now has a 38% vacancy rate, which is shocking," Murray says of the part-time homes. "That tells you that the people who are buying are those who can afford a second home, and those who once were there have gone."
Average wages in the Keys are 9% lower than for the rest of Florida, and residents here pay on average more than 50% of their household income to keep a roof overhead, the FIU study noted.
Personal finance advisors recommend spending no more than 30% of monthly income on housing.
For more than a decade, the Keys have imposed a 1% tourist tax on accommodations, goods and services, and committed half the revenue to buying land for middle-class home con- struction.
That has persuaded contractors to put more than 3,000 subsidized homes on the drawing boards, but local officials say the needs are at least three times that number and that the influx of wealthy buyers far outpaces the construction for Conchs.
The pressure to cash in keeps developers concentrated on the seven-figure market.
"The baby boomers are retiring and the successful ones are looking for their McMansions in the sun," says Key West historian Tom Hambright.
He came here with the Navy in the 1960s, when the military and commercial fishing were more important to the local economy than tourists. The counterculture influx of the 1970s mellowed the island's vibe and lured the rum-soaked generation fleeing cold and convention, hedonists who made Ernest Hemingway's watering holes rowdy again and led to new ones like Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Cafe.
Some of Old Town Key West's most authentic hangouts, though, have gone the way of patchouli oil and incense.
The Schooner Wharf Bar and the banjo-strumming bands that gathered on the waterfront for sunset concerts have been done in by the Harbor House development, a 32-unit luxury condominium rising on the site of the Old Town landmark.
T-shirt shops and snack bars along bustling Duval Street have closed; designer boutiques like Coach and Little Switzerland have sprouted.
Bringle says she misses the days when her male customers at El Meson de Pepe were mostly mainstream dropouts clad year-round in cargo shorts and flip-flops, their graying hair in ponytails.
"Some of them still wear ponytails and flip-flops," she says of the new locals. "But now that guy on the bar stool in front of me is probably a millionaire."