Orlando, Fla.
Orange County task force calls for million affordable housing


Orange County’s Housing For All task force has unveiled a 10-year plan to add tens of thousands of new homes and establish for the first time a local funding source that could pump $160 million into fighting Orlando‘s affordable housing crisis.

The 38-member task force, created nine months ago by Mayor Jerry Demings shortly after he took office, issued its final report to address the shortage of affordable housing in the region. The volunteer task force — comprised of architects, realtors, politicians and leaders from theme parks, nonprofits and hospitals — hopes to lift the Orlando area from last place among U.S. cities for affordable housing, a rank assigned by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In Orange County, 31% of the 320,000 households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend at least a third of their income on housing.

If approved by county commissioners in December, the plan calls for significantly loosening the county’s zoning codes; offering bonuses to developers who build in the county’s most housing-hungry neighborhoods; and developing a long-term strategy to preserve subsidized homes. It would also set up a locally funded housing trust fund; explore imposing an affordable housing fee on non-residential development; and establish a revolving loan fund for nonprofit builders.

The task force is calling it the “most comprehensive housing plan developed by the county to date.”

“This is the type of action that changes the landscape of housing to meet the needs of our current workforce residents and for future generations to come,” Demings said at a news conference after the meeting.

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If successful, the measures the county takes could add 30,300 new places to live by 2030: 11,000 “affordable” housing units for residents who make between $26,000 and $83,000, and 19,300 “attainable” units for those who make between $83,000 and $97,000.

The task force pointed to the urgency for a local funding source for affordable housing. It recommended the county set aside $10 million annually from its general revenue budget, increasing the contribution by 10% each year. The county would also encourage private contributions from large employers and other groups.

In 10 years, the fund would raise an estimated $160 million dedicated to affordable housing projects. The money could help finance multi-family projects, impact fee subsidies, pilot projects in areas most in need of housing, as well as the development of diverse housing types and preservation of current housing stock.

Having locally controlled money for affordable housing is critical to “ensure a reliable source of funds,” the report states. It would be the first time the county would have a fund of this size dedicated to affordable housing.

The task force would also like the county to explore the possibility of it and other local governments collecting a fee from developers that goes directly to affordable housing. The “linkage fee” would be assessed on non-residential new construction. The task force recommended the county first initiate a study into such a fee’s potential impact and meet with leaders from Orlando, Osceola County and Seminole County.

If the county chooses to move forward, it would be at least one to two years before the fee would generate any money. The fee could be approved as a local ordinance and would not need to be approved by voters.

The county will also consider launching a revolving loan fund for nonprofit developers to build affordable units. Nonprofits could use the money to cover costs of land acquisition, construction and consulting.

The fund would be set up with $2 million in existing money from the State Housing Initiatives Partnership by next summer. The county would look to add another $1.5 million in matching contributions from private organizations by the following summer. Up to 1,000 affordable units would be created in the next 10 years as a result.

Demings said the county will also work with its state legislators to protect money from the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund, a state pot of money that’s supposed to go entirely to affordable housing but more often than not is raided for other projects.

“We are not getting our fair share of those dollars back in Orange County,” Demings said.

This legislative session, lawmakers allocated $207 million from the Sadowski fund for affordable housing, and the other $125 million was put toward other things.

In 2019, the county received $4.6 million in total federal and state dollars for housing and homeless prevention. Over the next 10 years, the task force wants to see the county target federal and state programs and grants that have the potential to bring in almost $70 million.

Although the plan spans 10 years, the task force recommended the county immediately pursue relaxing its zoning laws, “one of the most strategic and pivotal paths moving forward.” The goal is to entice property owners and developers to build more diverse types of housing such as duplexes, triplexes, townhomes, live-work units, mother-in-law-suites and tiny homes. Those would go beyond the traditional single-family homes and apartment towers that dominate neighborhoods.

“Part of the plan is to introduce into our housing market a different type of housing that has a lower price point,” Demings said.

The county has already removed many of the regulations around accessory dwelling units, a separate living space on the same lot as a larger single-family home known as granny flats, carriage homes or mother-in-law suites or garage apartments.

Previously, they could only be so big, could only be rented to family members, and either the main house or separate dwelling had to be owner-occupied. With more lax regulations in place, the county expects to bring in 1,135 of them in the next decade, compared with the 227 that have been permitted in the last 20 years.

The task force also suggested reducing or removing entirely minimum square footage requirements to allow for smaller units, which are usually more affordable to build and live in; increasing or eliminating occupancy limits to encourage co-housing; reducing parking requirements; and allowing for more flexible lot configurations and building retrofits.

“Traditionally, Orange County neighborhoods contain predominantly single-family housing or multi-family apartments,” the report states. “The ‘missing middle’ housing strategy sets up incentives for property owners and developers to fill the gap …”

The county will also consider offering bonuses to developers who build in “areas of access and opportunity” and throughout the county. It was also suggested the county review the land it owns to see which properties could be land-banked and developed for affordable housing.

The task force recommended the county choose locations based on their proximity to public transit, employment centers, health care, grocery stores and retail. Pilot communities would include Holden Heights just south of Parramore, and Pine Castle and Taft, neighborhoods out by the Orlando International Airport where development has been booming.

Other potential areas are Pine Hills, International Drive, East Orlando and downtown.

The task force suggested county staff complete a map of targeted areas by August next year.

The county also needs a long-term strategy for preserving housing units that are at risk of losing their affordable designation, the task force said. There are 2,066 affordable multi-family units, subsidized by various programs, that could be lost by 2025 if the county doesn’t act. The task force hopes to save as many homes as possible.

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