Universal Orlando is promising to make 20 acres of land available for affordable housing, just ahead of a vote on dedicating public funds to a road benefiting its next theme park.
In a press conference alongside Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and four of the six Orange County commissioners, Universal Orlando CEO John Sprouls said the 20 acres of land will accommodate 1,000 affordable housing units. He also claimed the proposal is not a reaction to public backlash over the Dec. 17 vote on the $125 million in funding for the Kirkman Road extension, saying it has been in the works for months to help address Orlando’s need for affordable housing.
“We’ve been talking about how do we respond? Clearly people responding with money is important. But is there a better way? Was there a bigger way we could do something?” Sprouls said. “By donating the land, we ought to be able to make it extremely affordable because whoever ends up ultimately developing the land doesn’t have to pay for the land.”
Orlando has the worst affordable housing situation in the U.S., according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, with only 13 affordable housing units available for every 100 residents who need one. The crisis, and how it has affected the thousands of low-wage hospitality and theme park workers in the Orlando area, is the subject of an ongoing series from the Orlando Sentinel called “Laborland.”
Universal will also donate another three acres of land for future mass transit projects. The resort did not say Monday when construction will begin on any of the donated land, but its Epic Universe theme park is expected to open in 2023.
“We couldn’t be more excited,” Mayor Demings said in a prepared statement. “While details are still being worked out, Universal is serving as a prime example of a private entity teaming up with a public entity to address the affordable housing crisis in Orange County.”