Big Theme Parks Commit to Affordable Housing

Both Disney World and Universal Studios say they’re building affordable housing on company-owned land – a total of 2,300 new units for the Orlando area.

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – Two Florida theme parks have announced plans to build affordable housing in the Orlando area, where it has become increasingly difficult for lower-wage workers to find places to live.

Walt Disney World, the area’s largest employer, said Wednesday that 80 acres (32 hectares) has been earmarked for a development of some 1,300 units near its theme parks in Lake Buena Vista. The units will be available to qualified applicants who are employees or members of the public.

Last month, Universal Parks & Resorts announced plans to build a 1,000-unit mixed-income community that offers tuition-free preschool and medical care on site.

Orange County, home to Disney, Universal, SeaWorld and scores of hotels and resorts, attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.

The lack of affordable housing has been a concern for years, given the traditional lower wages associated with tourism and ever-increasing population numbers.

Last week, the Orange County Commission agreed to hire a consultant to study whether to consider a rent control ordinance.

In a news release Wednesday, Disney said the development, which is still in the planning stages, would offer a variety of home choices that are “affordable and attainable.”

Universal’s development, Catchlight Crossings, is a little further along, with plans submitted to the Orange County Planning and Development Department.

“Our vision has been to bring an innovative, new approach to solving our community’s affordable housing crisis,” John Sprouls, Universal’s executive vice president and chief administrative officer, said in a statement. “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.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings applauded the efforts.

“We look forward to working with other businesses to do the same as we endeavor to close the gap between the housing crisis and the lack of affordable housing to having an abundance of workforce housing in this community,” Demings said in recorded remarks.

He said the county hopes to see additional “workforce housing closer to where people work.”

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