Disney unveils plans to build affordable housing
When Walt Disney unveiled his vision in 1966 for a major project in central Florida, he called it an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT). He said it would be a city of 20,000 people, with a focus on industrial and civic experimentation…a utopian citywith a bit of Disney theme park magic on the side.
Disney died later that year before his vision could take shape. And when Disney World opened in 1971, its utopian experience was cast aside in EPCOT Centerjust a small element of an otherwise fully commercial theme park.
Now, over 50 years later, a more urban part of Disney’s utopian idealism is taking shape. The company announces a new project to augment its sprawling theme park and resort development with 1,300 affordable homes, located on 80 acres of land right next to Disney World.
The project is still in its early stages and is subject to government approvals, but The Walt Disney Company hopes to work with an unnamed third-party affordable housing developer to build a project that press materials say will make “a significant difference locally.” to solve a problem”. of the nation’s greatest challenges. The company declined to make a representative available for comment.
The company’s announcement notes that housing will be available to applicants from the general public, as well as its own employees. It is an acknowledgment that the shortage of affordable housing in the area is also an issue for Disney workers.
In the Orlando area, rents go upand the number of residents paying more than a third of their income in rent is among the highest in the country. In 2019, the National Low Income Housing Coalition named Orlando the worst city in the country for affordable housing, with only 13 affordable units per 100 low-income renters. The report estimates that the Orlando metropolitan area is short by more than 60,000 housing units for people with extremely low incomes. Disney’s affordable housing projects are clearly not taking place in a vacuum.
Many Disney World employees earn $15 an hour, the equivalent of only $31,200 per year. Building more affordable housing is one way to help them. Another solution would be to raise salaries.
This isn’t Disney’s first foray into residential real estate development. The planned community of Celebration, Florida, opened in 1996, was one of its first experiments in neighborhood construction. Earlier this year, the company announced another large-scale housing project for sale in California that aims to create what it calls “living historythrough themed neighborhoods where residents “can be part of Disney all the time.” This project will also be a joint venture with an outside developer.
Disney isn’t the only major entertainment company venturing into the affordable housing market. Universal Parks and Resorts recently announced a partnership with affordable housing developer Wendover Housing Partners to build 1,000 affordable and mixed-use housing units on 20 acres of land near its own Florida theme park. Project call housing for tomorrow, Universal also recognized that the shortage of affordable housing directly affects its own workers. “We have long believed in giving back to the community that has supported us and where our team members live and raise their families,” the company said on the project’s website.
For large landowners like Disney and Universal, residential development is an obvious business decision. Unlike theme park expansion, building new homes can happen relatively quickly. Add to that a severe shortage of affordable housing in the area, and the business case is even stronger. And by partnering with affordable housing developers, as every company expects, their developments will likely be able to tap into government-subsidized sources of funding, reducing costs and increasing the modest, but still profitable, returns from development. affordable housing.