Two endeavors to increase affordable housing in the Orlando, Florida, market are garnering headlines. Walt Disney World has earmarked nearly 80 acres of land in southwest Orange County for the development of more than 1,300 affordable housing units. Universal Parks & Resorts and developer Wendover Housing Partners also have revealed the initial development plan for Universal’s Housing for Tomorrow initiative, which also aims to address the area’s shortage of affordable housing. A year ago, Universal announced that it had pledged 20 acres of prime land in Orlando’s tourist corridor for 1,000 units of affordable and mixed-income housing.
The news comes at a time when rents are skyrocketing in Orlando as well as in other Florida markets. With an influx of people migrating to the Sunshine State, Orlando saw its year-over-year asking rents rise about 25% in March, according to Yardi Matrix. In addition, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Orlando metro only has 28 affordable and available units for every 100 households at or below 50% of the area median income.
Catchlight Crossings to Address Critical Housing Needs
Universal’s Housing for Tomorrow approach aims to create inclusive and economically diverse housing options. As a nonprofit, Housing for Tomorrow will retain ownership of the 20 acres pledged by Universal to ensure that the effort will provide housing for low- and moderate-income households in perpetuity. Wendover will build and manage the community.
The development plan for the Catchlight Crossings community, which includes the first look at the site plan, elevations, and key features, was created jointly by Wendover and Universal. The aim is to set a new vision for what affordable housing can be and how the community can enhance the lifestyle of its residents.
“Our vision has been to bring an innovative, new approach to solving our community’s affordable housing crisis,” said John Sprouls, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Universal Parks & Resorts. “This is about creating a community that will put residents first—a place that inspires them and that they will be proud to call home.”
Community features are expected to include on-site, tuition-free preschool; on-site medical offices; a transportation center for buses, ridesharing, and employer shuttles; a 16,000-square-foot retail area; a community event space; technology cafes; a maker space; community gardens; bike and walking paths; a neighborhood food pantry; a fitness center; a game room; a playground; two resort-style pools; and a grilling gazebo.
“Through this partnership with Universal, we hope to serve as a model for how private employers, local governments, and developers can work together to address socioeconomic issues in the communities where we live and work,” said Jonathan L. Wolf, Wendover founder and CEO. “What Wendover and Universal are creating here is truly unique and will leave a lasting, positive impact on the community for generations to come.”
The development plan is going through the approval process with Orange County.
Walt Disney World Lending a Hand
Walt Disney World’s initiative will be constructed by a third-party affordable housing developer on its land near its Central Florida theme parks. Still in the early planning stages and subject to approvals, the development will offer residents a variety of home types that are affordable and attainable and located close to schools and the new and expanding Flamingo Crossings Town Center. Homes will be available for qualifying applicants, including Disney cast members.
“We are invested in working together with our community to solve complex issues,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort. “The lack of affordable housing is affecting many people across our country, including right here in Central Florida. With this initiative, we’re lending a hand to make a real meaningful impact in our community by tapping into the best of our company’s strengths. This is the right opportunity and the right time to take action.”
More details will be available at a later date as the company continues due diligence work with an affordable housing developer. Known for its theme parks and resort hotels, Disney said it will engage the developer to bring the same innovation, expertise, and attention to detail to the initiative.
The Orlando initiative joins additional affordable housing investments Disney is making. Disneyland Resort led an effort several years ago to revitalize the Orange County Housing Trust that provides “last mile” funding for affordable housing projects. This helped make Jamboree Housing’s Buena Esperanza, a motel conversion that now provides permanent supportive housing for 70 households, a reality. As a result of Disney’s investment, a second project is benefiting. Jamboree’s Finamore Place, which is slated for completion this summer, will provide another 100 units of affordable housing in Anaheim, California.