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Disney and Universal will build affordable housing in Florida, where need is acute

A rendering provided by Universal Parks & Resorts shows its planned development in Orange County, Fla., that includes affordable housing.
Universal Parks & Resorts
A rendering provided by Universal Parks & Resorts shows its planned development in Orange County, Fla., that includes affordable housing.

Anyone looking for affordable housing in central or southern Florida is in for a wild ride — and that's why two Florida theme parks are pledging to devote around 100 acres of land to ease the housing crunch.

In places like Orlando and Tampa, rent has been rising faster than nearly every other part of the U.S. The average rent in Orlando jumped by 21% in just one year, from 2020 to 2021.

Walt Disney World plans to build more than 1,300 housing units on nearly 80 acres of land in Orange County (which includes Orlando), but it adds that the plan is still in the early stages and needs regulatory approvals.

"The development will offer residents a variety of home choices that are affordable and attainable," said Rena Langley, Walt Disney World's senior vice president for communications and public affairs company. The new units will be close to schools and Disney's new Flamingo Crossings retail and dining complex, she added.

Universal Parks & Resorts says it has "pledged 20 acres of prime land in the heart of Orlando's tourist corridor to be used for 1,000 units of affordable/mixed-income housing."

Universal's plan lists a number of amenities, from tuition-free preschool, community gardens and pools to on-site medical offices and a transportation center.

Like Disney's plan, the Universal proposal still needs the county government's approval. Both companies are working with development companies on their projects.

Walt Disney World and Universal Parks & Resorts are devoting land to affordable housing developments, in hopes of easing central Florida's housing crisis. Here, visitors drive past a sign welcoming them to Walt Disney World in the summer of 2020.
Gregg Newton / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Walt Disney World and Universal Parks & Resorts are devoting land to affordable housing developments, in hopes of easing central Florida's housing crisis.

The nation's affordable housing crisis has been particularly acute in central and southern Florida in recent years, and the state's housing supply hasn't been keeping up with its population growth. The pandemic has made the situation worse, as spikes in home prices and rent have far outpaced any gains in income.

"We've seen a bottleneck in housing supply and a rise in renters over the last decade — which has been really quite pronounced — and a corresponding decline in homeownership," Florida housing market expert Andrew Ross told member station WLRN last November. "The stabilizing factors in the housing market for decades have become a little bit unmoored and unanswered."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.