Universal Orlando Backs Affordable Housing Project

October 2, 2020, 10:30 AM · It's been a tough year for the tourism industry, but it's always tough making ends meet for many tourism workers in Central Florida. When housing prices rise faster than inflation, it is workers making the least who get squeezed the most.

So today, the Universal Orlando Resort announced plans to donate 20 acres of land near International Drive and manage the developer selection process to create approximately 1,000 high-quality, affordable apartments for Central Florida workers.

"The need for affordable housing in Central Florida is strong and our vision is clear," Universal Parks & Resorts Executive Vice President for Administration John Sprouls said. "We will make land available for affordable housing, we will bring the right partners to the project and we will set a high standard for the new community we create."

"I am thrilled that Universal has stepped up to the plate to help solve the affordable housing challenge, an issue that affects us all. This venture is a great example of a public-private partnership," Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings said. "I am also very proud of the results produced by the Housing for All Task Force. Their plan of action provides a clear blueprint for moving forward."

Universal today launched a website for the project at HousingForTomorrow.com. The goal is to have a developer in place by the first quarter of next year, with ground broken in 2022. The project will be overseen by a team of Universal Orlando managers and community leaders, including the co-chairman of Orange County's Housing for All Task Force and the president of the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce.

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Replies (5)

October 2, 2020 at 10:54 AM

I've always felt that "affordable housing" projects are a farce, and that there are so many loopholes in the programs that they rarely ever achieve the goals that are sought. They also artificially skew the market that just digs the gap between rich and poor even wider instead of allowing natural market forces to dictate conditions.

If Universal is making a stake in this project, does that mean a portion of the development will be set aside for park/resort employees? That just allows Universal to suck off the teat of government subsidies spun to employees as benefits instead of having to increase benefits/wages to retain and hire talent that can afford to live in the area.

Sorry, projects like these framed as "affordable housing" are never anything more than a shell game to allow companies (primarily developers) to unbalance the natural market forces even further in their favor and to profit off the downtrodden.

October 2, 2020 at 11:07 AM

Yeah, no answers yet on who will be allowed to buy these apartments, or if they are rented, who will decide who will get to rent them. Devil in the details, as they say.

I led this post the way I did because I think too few people understand the inherent problem with housing - if prices in aggregate rise faster than inflation, each subsequent generation will find it harder and harder to afford a place to live. The only true solution to affordable housing is for housing prices - again, in aggregate - to remain steady with wage growth. We're not even close to that happening in America, and especially so in low-wage tourist communities where it seems every new housing development becomes a bunch of Airbnbs.

That said, if Universal can help build 1,000 apartments that end up occupied full-time by Central Florida residents, that would be good for the community — so good for Universal for supporting that.

October 2, 2020 at 12:14 PM

Agree that too many people don't understand the severity of our housing crisis, and it's appalling that state and local governments allow themselves to be twisted into relaxing basic zoning requirements and offering huge tax incentives for the minimal benefit that "affordable housing" developments actually provide.

Where I live (DC Metro Area), so many of these "affordable housing units" are built as a subset of larger developments. Companies buy large tracts of land (sometimes on opposite ends of a jurisdiction), and label a development under a single title, separating the classes with terms like "east" and "west" or "estates" and "commons" to get the "affordable housing" benefits while at the same time building luxury homes on 75% of the developed land. In urban settings, they'll build a 10-story condo building with a few dozen million dollar units on the top 6 floors and a hundred or more apartments on the lower 4 floors. However, when nobody buys the condos and not enough low/middle income people can afford the apartments, the entire building converts into "luxury" apartments that sit empty for years because the developer can balance the books on the subsidies from the "affordable" units rented on the lower floors.

These types of developments go unchecked for years, and the realtors and authorities have no leverage or desire to bring the prices in line with the actual market conditions, forcing many to overextend and beyond their means to find a place they can afford.

What happens all too often with these "affordable housing" developments are the only people that can actually "afford" them are those that qualify for the subsidy since the prices of the non-subsidized units are too high for the average middle-class buyers to afford who don't qualify for the subsidy (except for instances where governments provide subsidies to certain middle class workers like police, fire fighters, and teachers), widening the gap between the rich and poor. These developments are one of main contributors to the shrinking of the middle class in America, yet no one is doing anything about it. Officials are too busy pressing for "wage equality" (which really just widens the gap between rich and poor by essentially eliminating the middle-class) instead of focusing on the single largest percentage of a family's budget - housing, which is increasing out of control.

I would hope that a project like this lives up to its good intentions, but I've seen this story play out too many times in my area to believe that this will be any different.

October 2, 2020 at 12:07 PM

I absolutely get Russell's skepticism. I'm not convinced that this is 100% kindness on Uni's part.

But my gut reaction is "this is actually really cool of them."

I've been homeless in the past (fortunately, I am now typing this from inside my house, and I still sometimes shudder to think of the things I had to do in order to survive in those days -- I HAD a job, but didn't pay enough to afford a place to live and I was lucky to be able to rent a motel room 2-3 nights per week). I consider housing a human right, and if this gets a roof over more peoples' heads, then I'm all for it.

But Russell's concerns are not unfounded. Because having the downtrodden NOT be used as pawns should also be a human right.

October 2, 2020 at 12:58 PM

Anyone remember the good old days when progressive businessmen built entire towns to improve their workers lives... like Bourneville, or Gary, or Hershey - hey We got to a theme park reference!

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