Disney World’s Affordable Housing Project Approved by County Commissioners

After months of anticipation and public debate, Walt Disney World’s ambitious plan to build an affordable housing community in Orange County has received a crucial green light. On Tuesday, March 26, 2024, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners voted 4-2 to approve the transmittal of Disney’s proposal to the state for review, marking a significant milestone in the project’s development. 

The Proposal: A Comprehensive Solution

Disney’s proposal aims to address the pressing need for affordable housing in Central Florida by constructing approximately 1,400 units of mixed-income housing on nearly 80 acres of land owned by the company. The development, which will be located near the Flamingo Crossings Town Center in Horizon West, is designed to provide a range of housing options for qualifying applicants within a certain income range, including Disney cast members and the general public.

According to the plans, more than 1,000 of the units will be reserved as affordable housing, catering to individuals and families earning between 50% and 100% of the area’s median income. This initiative aims to alleviate the burden of escalating housing costs, allowing residents to allocate resources towards essential needs such as food, medication, transportation, and childcare.

A Collaborative Effort

Disney has partnered with The Michaels Organization, a nationally recognized developer with extensive experience in affordable housing projects across 35 states, including Florida. The Michaels Organization will be responsible for building, owning, and operating the housing community, which is expected to be privately financed by Disney.

The development’s design is intended to seamlessly integrate with the surrounding Horizon West community, featuring a mix of building typologies, distinctive neighborhood designs, and ample green spaces. Plans also include amenities such as parks, gathering spaces, and trails along natural wetlands, promoting a sense of community and well-being for future residents.

A Contentious Debate

While the project has garnered support from various stakeholders, including local organizations and advocates for affordable housing, it has also faced opposition from some Horizon West residents. Concerns raised during the public comment period included potential traffic congestion, overcrowding in local schools, and the overall scale of the development.

Supporters, however, have emphasized the urgent need for affordable housing in the region and the potential positive impact the project could have on the lives of Central Florida residents. Father Jose Rodriguez of the Alianza Center, a proponent of the project, stated, “Far too many workers in District One are not able to live in the economies they sustain and the economies they support. Please open the doors to this development.”

A Step Forward

With the county commissioners’ approval, Disney’s affordable housing proposal will now undergo review by the Florida Department of Commerce and other state agencies. This process is expected to take several months, during which time the state will provide comments and recommendations for the project. Tajiana Ancora-Brown, Director of External Affairs at Walt Disney World Resort, expressed the company’s satisfaction with the vote, stating, “We are pleased with tonight’s vote and look forward to continuing our efforts to bring affordable housing to Central Florida.”

A Lasting Impact

Disney’s commitment to addressing the affordable housing crisis in Central Florida extends beyond this latest initiative. The company has a long-standing history of supporting organizations and causes that combat homelessness, hunger, and poverty in the region. 

In 2023 alone, Disney provided $1.5 million in new donations to 19 nonprofit organizations through its Disney Grants program, in addition to $33.4 million in cash and in-kind donations during the fiscal year. These contributions have supported organizations such as Second Harvest Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity, Hope Partnership, and the Christian Service Center, among others.

A Beacon of Hope

As the affordable housing project moves forward, it represents a beacon of hope for many Central Florida residents struggling with the rising cost of living. By leveraging its resources and collaborating with experienced developers, Disney aims to create a lasting positive impact on the community it calls home. While challenges and opposition may persist, the approval from the county commissioners signifies a crucial step towards addressing a critical issue that affects countless individuals and families in the region. With a commitment to innovative solutions and a dedication to supporting the local community, Disney’s affordable housing initiative has the potential to serve as a model for other organizations and companies seeking to make a meaningful difference.

A Brighter Future for Central Florida

The approval of Disney World’s affordable housing project by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners marks a significant milestone in the company’s efforts to address the pressing need for attainable housing in Central Florida. While the road ahead may present challenges, the collaborative effort between Disney and The Michaels Organization, coupled with the support of local advocates and organizations, offers a glimmer of hope for those struggling with the region’s escalating housing costs.

As the project undergoes state review and moves closer to groundbreaking, it serves as a testament to Disney’s longstanding commitment to supporting the local community and finding innovative solutions to complex issues. By providing affordable housing options and creating a vibrant, inclusive community, this initiative has the potential to uplift countless lives and contribute to a brighter future for Central Florida residents.

While the debate surrounding the project’s impact on traffic, school capacity, and community dynamics will likely continue, the approval from the county commissioners represents a significant step forward in addressing a critical need. As the development takes shape, it will serve as a reminder of the power of collaboration, compassion, and a shared vision for a more equitable and sustainable future for all.