With Florida residents bombarded by housing insecurity in a floundering economy, Universal Parks and Resorts has stepped up to provide affordable housing — and a variety of amenities — in order to bring stability and equality to the real estate game
In the midst of an economic struggle, Floridians are having a particularly difficult time keeping a stable roof over their heads. In South Florida, the median price for a home now ranges over $475,000, an extremely tough number to match when the average yearly state wage is around $55,000.
Homebuyers aren’t the only ones who have been taken for a ride. According to Florida officials, some places have seen rents increase by nearly 37%. Orlando rents in particular have seen a 21% jump from 2020 to 2021, along with a 10.1% premium.
“Renting used to be an affordable fallback if you didn’t have the money to buy a house, but now many people can’t afford these spikes in rent, either, putting them in a real bind. This almost certainly is not limited to Central and west Florida,” Florida Atlantic University economist Ken Johnson told the school’s media.
With thousands of renters and owners facing an uncertain present in regards to their housing situation, one entertainment giant has turned their attention to the matter and plans to offer solutions that could help to stabilize the insecurity that currently reigns.
Universal Parks and Resorts announced that as part of its Housing For Tomorrow initiative, its pledged 20 acres in the “heart of Orlando’s tourist corridor” that will be used for 1,000 high-quality units of affordable/mixed income housing. For the project, Universal is partnering with Wendover Housing Partners.
The community in question — set to be known as Crosslight Catchings — will feature a number of amenities that include a tuition-free pre-school, fitness center, neighborhood food pantry, 16,000 square foot retail space, game room, community gardens, grilling gazebos, and on-site medical offices.
“Our initiative addresses the primary focus areas identified by our county leadership and will help provide innovative solutions that move our community forward – for everyone.”
Rent for the units will be anywhere between $450 to $850 a month, while Wendover is financing $250 million for the “first of its kind” project. It’s not hard to imagine these units also being offered to Universal workers, allowing for easier commutes and greater flexibility overall.
Universal started their planning for the development back in 2019, when they began to search nationwide for a developer. They eventually landed on Wendover in April of last year, citing their portfolio of affordable housing work. The development plan still needs to go through the approval process for Orange County, however.
“Our vision has been to bring an innovative, new approach to solving our community’s affordable housing crisis,” Universal Parks & Resorts executive and chief administrative officer John Sprouls stated. “This is about creating a community that will put residents first – a place that inspires them and that they will be proud to call home.”
Local residents and leaders have shown to be nothing but pleased with Universal’s actions, with Orange County mayor Jerry Demings celebrating the plan to helping low-income workers that help to drive the location’s extensive tourism industry.
“We look forward to working with other businesses to do the same as we endeavor to close the gap between the housing crisis and the lack of affordable housing to having an abundance of workforce housing in this community,” Demings said. Residents will also be treated by being located next to Universal’s next planned theme park, Epic Universe, allowing both entertainment and work opportunities.
“What Wendover and Universal are creating here is truly unique and will leave a lasting, positive impact on the community for generations to come.”
It’s not a surprise that the entertainment giant is looking to make a difference in its own backyard. Universal — which possesses a net worth of $1.8 billion — has its Universal Orlando Resort located near where the planned community is set to thrive. They also have a more worldwide presence as well, with resorts in countries like China, Japan, and Singapore.
Of course, Universal is working multiple fronts in order to bring equality and success for a brighter future. One of their largest initiatives involves empowering youth, from creating hands-on learning labs to a program that helps high schoolers strive to reach diplomas while also meeting professionals in a variety of different career paths.
Universal additionally offers educational experiences that involve collaboration with teachers, administrators, and organizations that help to “‘bring it’ to schools in areas where it’s needed the most by providing resources and exciting opportunities.”
Like Housing For Tomorrow, among the programs that help the communities around Universal in need of quality standard of living is Bite, Camera, Action, which features a mobile food pantry truck that provides food for hungry families and youth through the state. Meanwhile, Universal Orlando volunteers host a farmers market/resource fair that includes free produce and family food boxes.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at email@example.com.