- May 12, 2021
Walt Disney World Resort unveiled last week plans to designate nearly 80 acres of land to bring a new affordable-housing development to Southwest Orange County.
Although the development is still in its early planning stages, the company said it has been focused on finding solutions to the challenge of affordable housing for some time.
The current plans, subject to approvals, will include more than 1,300 units and will be constructed by a third-party affordable-housing developer on Disney’s land near its Central Florida theme parks.
In addition, the development will offer residents a variety of affordable and attainable home choices located in close proximity to schools and the new and expanding Flamingo Crossings Town Center retail and dining complex in Horizon West.
Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle said the lack of affordable housing is affecting many people across the country, including in the Orlando area.
“We are invested in working together with our community to solve complex issues,” Vahle said. “With this initiative, we’re lending a hand to make a real and 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.”
Both the general public and Disney cast members will have the opportunity to apply for the development.
Following the announcement,
Local Realtor Anne-Marie Wurzel said she welcomes the new development, and that it’s size would not affect the market in a significant way.
“This is … a good way to help retain workers, which is (a) struggle in today’s market,” Wurzel said. “But I don’t think 1,000 or 2,000 units of affordable housing by Disney will change anything for residential home prices. The residential home market is still struggling with limited inventory and ever increasing prices due to supply chain issues and high demand.”
Horizon West resident Jack Oakes said he has mixed feelings on the development.
“On the one hand, it could turn into a dump over time,” Oakes said. “On the other hand, it’s Disney, and they deserve a shot at revolutionizing affordable housing.”
He said he doesn’t believe the local residents would be living in the area if it weren’t for Disney, but when the land was bought, Disney was still a private company.
“The latest leadership at Disney is who is in charge of this project, and I think the public has never had as little faith in Disney leadership as they do right now,” he said. “So Bob Chapek shouldn’t inherit the optimism we would show to the same project led by Bob Iger.”
Horizon West resident David Terry said he also is unsure how he feels about the project.
“Honestly I’m not worried about housing prices,” he said. “We need affordable housing. A $400,000 starter house isn’t for everyone, and I don’t think adding apartments and townhouses is going to drive down prices.”
Local Realtor Shelley Dawson said she thinks the affordable housing will fill an unmet need and can be a huge benefit to the community.
“I don’t think it will affect the price of homes, but it may over time have an impact on overall rental demand and create a more balanced rental market,” she said.
Terry said he is concerned with how the housing will impact school. His daughter has spent 12 of her 13 years in over-capacity schools.
“Orange County Public Schools can’t keep up with current plans, and I don’t believe these 1,300 homes were in their projections,” Terry said. “We have also seen more other apartments than are in the OCPS projections. Our children have been overcrowded for too long, and if Disney wants to bring a lot more kids into an already-strained school system, then I think they need to pay for it.”
“Orange County Public Schools is aware of the Flamingo Crossings area and its projected growth,” district officials said in a prepared statement. “The school district’s Advance Planning Committee reviews student enrollment projections every year and determines where new schools are needed.
“Two elementary schools will open in August 2022 which will bring relief to Water Spring Elementary School, along with an additional elementary school scheduled to open in 2024,” officials said. “Horizon High School, which opened this school year, currently houses Water Spring Middle School students until their campus opens in 2023. Both schools will then increase capacity for middle and high students in this area.”
Although Disney did not release where this project would be built, if it is located within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, it would not go through the same approval process through Orange County as other projects in Southwest Orange and Horizon West.
Disney said it will continue to share additional information in the next months and years.