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Disney and Universal will build affordable housing in Florida, where need is acute

Visitors drive past a sign welcoming them to Walt Disney World on the first day of reopening of the iconic Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida, on July 11, 2020. - Disney's flagship theme park reopened its doors to the general public on Saturday, along with Animal Kingdom, as part of their phased reopening in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. New safety measures have been implemented including mandatory face masks for everyone and temperature checks for guests before they enter. (Photo by Gregg Newton / Gregg Newton / AFP) (Photo by GREGG NEWTON/Gregg Newton/AFP via Getty Images)
A rendering provided by Universal Parks & Resorts shows its planned development in Orange County, Fla., that includes affordable housing.

Anyone looking for affordable housing in central or southern Florida is in for a wild ride — and that's why two Florida theme parks are pledging to devote around 100 acres of land to ease the housing crunch.

In places like Orlando and Tampa, rent has been rising faster than nearly every other part of the U.S. The average rent in Orlando jumped by 21% in just one year, from 2020 to 2021.

Walt Disney World plans to build more than 1,300 housing units on nearly 80 acres of land in Orange County (which includes Orlando), but it adds that the plan is still in the early stages and needs regulatory approvals.

"The development will offer residents a variety of home choices that are affordable and attainable," said Rena Langley, Walt Disney World's senior vice president for communications and public affairs company. The new units will be close to schools and Disney's new Flamingo Crossings retail and dining complex, she added.

Universal Parks & Resorts says it has "pledged 20 acres of prime land in the heart of Orlando's tourist corridor to be used for 1,000 units of affordable/mixed-income housing."

Universal's plan lists a number of amenities, from tuition-free preschool, community gardens and pools to on-site medical offices and a transportation center.

Like Disney's plan, the Universal proposal still needs the county government's approval. Both companies are working with development companies on their projects.

The nation's affordable housing crisis has been particularly acute in central and southern Florida in recent years, and the state's housing supply hasn't been keeping up with its population growth. The pandemic has made the situation worse, as spikes in home prices and rent have far outpaced any gains in income.

"We've seen a bottleneck in housing supply and a rise in renters over the last decade — which has been really quite pronounced — and a corresponding decline in homeownership," Florida housing market expert Andrew Ross told member station WLRN last November. "The stabilizing factors in the housing market for decades have become a little bit unmoored and unanswered." Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.