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Walt Disney World to Build Affordable Housing in Central Florida

Walt Disney World to Build Affordable Housing in Central Florida

Walt Disney World has announced plans to build more than 1,300 affordable housing units across about 80 acres near the west side of the property.

It will be build by a third party developer, and located in close proximity to schools and the new and expanding Flamingo Crossings Town Center retail and dining complex.

This is located just west of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, on the other side of Hwy 429.

The company says the upcoming development will be available for qualifying applicants from the general public, which includes Disney cast members.

Disney hasn’t revealed any other details, including what expected rents will be, other than to say this project will be a multi-year project and there is currently no timeline for completion.

“We are invested in working together with our community to solve complex issues,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, in the release. “The lack of affordable housing is affecting many people across our country, including right here in Central Florida. 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.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings applauded the Disney announcement, saying it was “stepping up to the plate to set the standard for corporate engagement in this community.”

Walt Disney World - Flamingo Crossings Village

In the same area, the company also runs the Flamingo Crossings Village, which houses cast members (mostly College Program) in dormitory-style apartments that fit two or four people, starting at $649 for a private bedroom and bathroom in an apartment with shared kitchen and living room.

The company also is initiating the Storyliving by Disney residential communities, with the first development being built in Rancho Mirage, CA.

Here in Orlando, Disney competitor Universal Parks & Resorts has released plans for its own housing development, which include a 1,000-unit mixed-income community with tuition-free preschool and medical care located near the site of its upcoming newest park, Epic Universe.

Meanwhile, rents across metro Orlando have been skyrocketing since the pandemic. The average 1-bedroom is now $1,680, which accounts for more than 60% of the average monthly earnings for workers. Many have no choice but to find roommates to be able to afford a place to live.

In 2019, local newspaper The Orlando Sentinel produced an award-winning series of articles titled “Laborland,” which examined the lives of Orlando theme park workers who were on average paid less than a living wage and had difficulties finding affordable housing.

This area definitely needs more affordable housing, that won’t take more than half of a worker’s monthly income just for a place to live. I’m looking forward to seeing what this new community by The Walt Disney Company will offer…and at what price.

Why This Project Right Now?

Walt Disney World is identifying this project as part of their Walt Disney World Gives Back program. It’s true, Disney supports the Central Florida community in a number of ways. We report on many of them here on the blog.

The support Disney gives to Central Florida ultimately is paid back in increased goodwill and a better pool to hire new employees from. But there are a lot of things outside of their control that can impact the community as well. The cost of living, for one.

Right now the cost of living is increasing more rapidly than people can keep up with. Any economic progress a cast member made by Disney’s decision to increase starting pay for workers to $15 has been completely swallowed up by the increased costs of rent, cars, fuel, insurance, and food.

In this video Jeff Vahle, Walt Disney World president, explains why Disney is building affordable housing

Building a community with affordable apartments is not just good for the community, it will be good for Disney. They will have happier workers who can live just outside the gates of the resort, save on rent, use less fuel, and perform better in their roles because the stress of life is that much easier.

Yes, these units are open to anyone in the community who qualifies, but given the location, I’m sure most of the applicants will be people who work in and around the Walt Disney World property.

When companies can find ways to support the community, their employees, and bolster their bottom line, the effort is still a good one, but it may feel a little disingenuous. That’s not to say Disney shouldn’t move ahead with adding affordable dwellings, it’s just something they should have been doing all along, not waiting until the economy is in crisis.

John Frost contributed to this article