Disney gives update on affordable housing project

Representatives from Walt Disney World and The Michaels Organization are set to meet with Orange County’s Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday, Feb. 15, to discuss the new project.

This rendering shows the new development planned to break ground this year on Hartzog Road.
This rendering shows the new development planned to break ground this year on Hartzog Road.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World
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Walt Disney World representatives announced an update on the organization's new proposed affordable housing project in Horizon West. 

Officials from both Disney and developer The Michaels Organization are set to meet with Orange County’s Planning and Zoning Commission Thursday, Feb. 15, to present the project. 

The two organizations hope the project will next move on to an Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting in the near future. 

"Community leaders have identified affordable housing as one of the biggest needs in our region, and our plan can contribute to the solution," Tajiana Ancora-Brown, Walt Disney World director of external affairs, said in a prepared statement. "We are working very thoughtfully alongside a prominent developer to create a place that strengthens the surrounding area while making a real difference in people’s lives for years to come.”

To address the critical need for affordable housing, Disney announced in April 2022 its dedication of nearly 80 acres for a new community in Horizon West.

The proposed project sits on 114.23 acres on Hartzog Road, generally bounded by Hartzog Road to the north and east, and State Road 545 to the west. 

Disney is working with The Michaels Organization, announced November 2022, to build about 1,400 units of mixed income housing in the area, more than 1,000 of which will be reserved as affordable. 

With more than 425 communities in more than 35 states — including in Florida — The Michaels Organization is the largest privately held owner of affordable housing in the country. It will build, own and operate the housing community.

The development is not government funded, and Disney officials said the company will not benefit financially from the development. 

“In collaboration with a renowned developer, The Michaels Organization, we envision a place where cost-burdened renters can focus on their personal growth and prosperity by gaining access to affordable housing,” Disney representatives wrote on the affordable housing website. “By alleviating the weight of escalating housing costs, we hope to give residents the relief they need to prioritize resources necessary to thrive, like food, medication, car payments, childcare and more. … Disney has been on the front line supporting important causes in Florida for more than five decades. This initiative has been in the works for several years, as the lack of affordable housing is affecting many people across our country, including those who live and work in Central Florida. This project is the right opportunity and the right time to take action.”

The Michaels Organization’s mission is to bring comprehensive solutions to communities that jumpstart housing, education, civic engagement and neighborhood prosperity.

The organization’s vision for the new development is to lift the lives of those who support the local community, seamlessly integrate within the Horizon West community, and promote health and wellness through an inspirational environment.

In terms of goals for the project, the organization hopes to provide elevated resident engagement through a personalized approach to management and operations; inspire residents to share their story through unique placemaking and ongoing community events; and ensure health and wellness is prevalent throughout the community experience.

Officials said the land was selected because it is part of a thriving community. The area is close to employers, shopping, services, public schools, and areas of rest and recreation. 

“We feel there is no better positioned community in Central Florida to provide residents the opportunity to start a new chapter of their story,” Disney representatives write on the affordable housing website.

The community is planned to include a mix of building typologies with a focus on storytelling and the arts, featuring murals and unique elevations that create a distinct look and feel for each neighborhood within the development. 

The distinctive designs will help provide a sense of belonging for future residents who will also have access to amenities that provide ample space to focus on their wellness.

There are two amenity buildings proposed, and amenities for the development would include a pool, pickleball court, dog parks, playgrounds and a large amount of greenspace area.

“The design of this community is intentional and intended to fit seamlessly with the culture and values of Horizon West,” Disney representatives wrote on the affordable housing website. “From open green landscapes to parks and vibrant community gathering places, this development will build upon and complement its neighboring villages in Horizon West. This development is being thoughtfully planned to be a place the community will be proud of for years to come.”

Disney representatives helped to host a community meeting with Orange County on the project in September. 

At that meeting, residents raised concerns regarding traffic and transportation, school capacity, location, affordability and attainability, and more. 

However, Disney representatives said they feel confident in how the county will address the topics of residents’ concerns.

The development will have three entrances designed to welcome the community in, allowing for easier traffic flow and offering safe paths for pedestrians and bikers. The paths are planned to connect the development, creating efficient ways to reach parks, gathering spaces and trails along the natural wetland.

Because the development is privately funded, the developer will not be requesting fee waivers typically available to affordable housing developments. The developer will pay impact fees to help address the transportation, infrastructure and school capacity needs.

The development, planned to be privately financed, will be limited to applicants within a certain income range.

Based on 2023 data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, households eligible for affordable units will include those with a combined annual income between $30,750 and $115,000.

The development will be available for qualifying applicants in the Central Florida region, including, but not limited to, Disney cast members. 

Information on how to apply for those who qualify will be shared by The Michaels Organization when available.

The design of this community is intentional and intended to fit seamlessly with the culture and values of Horizon West.
Photo courtesy of Walt Disney World



Annabelle Sikes

News Editor Annabelle Sikes was born in Boca Raton and moved to Orlando in 2018 to attend the University of Central Florida. She graduated from UCF in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology. Her past journalism experiences include serving as a web producer at the Orlando Sentinel, a reporter at The Community Paper, managing editor for NSM Today, digital manager at Centric Magazine and as an intern for the Orlando Weekly.

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