The approval of a new townhome development in Winter Park on Monday in place of an existing neighborhood has left a burning question: Is Winter Park affordable for everyone?
Questions of affordable housing were raised as resident Karen Gray spoke to the City Commission about her plight of finding a new place to live. Her current home will be bulldozed to make way for a more expensive 30-unit townhome complex along Lee Road.
“You’re talking about this place like an empty lot – you’re just going to come in and build these townhomes,” Gray said. “You’re not thinking that there are 16 families there that have no place to go.”
“I’ve been proactively looking myself in fear of what’s about to happen and I can’t find a place that I can afford in Winter Park, where I have lived and worked for 13 years…. We’re being priced out of Winter Park.”
Mayor Steve Leary said that Winter Park has already exceeded the required amount of affordable housing it needs – at least on paper. Winter Park defines affordable housing as “a dwelling unit which costs less than 80 percent of the median price of single family homes sold in the previous year in the Orlando Metropolitan area.”
“I think it’s a challenge for most communities and I haven’t seen anyone figure it out,” Leary said. “We do have more affordable housing through the Hannibal Square Community Land Trust, through Habitat for Humanity and through the Winter Park Housing Authority. On paper and by numbers, we more than meet our needs, but does that mean that everybody who wants to live in Winter Park can find a place to live? I don’t know.”
The city currently lists affordable and workforce housing communities on its official website, including the Plymouth Apartments, Winter Park Oaks and Canton Park.
When it comes to bringing in more options for affordable and workforce housing, it’s difficult to control what developments come to the city, Leary said.
“We’re not developers,” Leary said. “How can you mandate that developers build to a certain price point?”
Leary added that he hopes to see more money put toward workforce housing – or dwelling units which cost less than 120 percent of the median price – in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
That budget will be discussed during a July 20 work session, with the City Commission seeking public input during their July 27 meeting.
Whether Winter Park technically meets its requirements or not, the city has seen a decrease in cheaper rental housing. A 2012 study from the city’s planning and community development department showed that the number of rental properties costing below $750 a month was cut in half over the past decade, while rental homes costing at least $1,500 a month tripled.
Of the 11,995 occupied homes in Winter Park during 2010, 34.8 percent were rented – an increase of 12.5 percent since 2000.
Winter Park’s government hasn’t sat idle, though. The city took strides over the past two decades to give a boost to affordable housing in Winter Park by working with Habitat for Humanity to build 42 homes and partnered with the Hannibal Square Community Land Trust Inc. to build 19 more.
The city tried a different approach in 1990 when it established an affordable housing linkage fee of 15 cents per square foot for new residential construction, paid for by the developers upon receiving building permits.
City Commissioners later voted to increase that fee to 50 cents, raising a total of $3.65 million over the past 24 years – money set aside in a trust fund to build more affordable housing.
The fee was reset to zero cents and suspended by the City Commission in September 2013 after Commissioners questioned its legality and purpose.
Perry Pryor, another Winter Park resident who will be forced to move following the approval of the Lee Road townhomes, said it all points to Winter Park becoming a community where “commoners” are no longer welcome.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” Pryor told the Observer in May. “Our income is not going to be able to [pay to] live in housing more than $800 a month.”
“When you’re looking for a place to live and you’re low-income, you don’t come to Winter Park.”