Orlando’s Pendana at West Lakes mixed-income apartments have debuted with 8,000 prospective tenants inquiring about 201 units, some of which rent for less than half of the going market rate.
The number of applicants for the new development near Camping World Stadium underscores Orlando’s ranking as one of the country’s toughest housing markets for the lowest-income renters, reported the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Metro Orlando’s gap between wages and housing costs hurt the region’s attractiveness as a place to live, according to a new report by U.S. News & World Report that ranked Metro Orlando 78th.
“I hope and pray people see the demand,” said Orlando renter Anita Mouton, who added that she is on a waiting list, hoping Pendana units will open later in the year. “What are they waiting on to create more of these? You need these in this community. This is a low-budget city.”
In search of housing solutions, more than 100 Central Florida officials and housing executives last week finalized a series of regional housing workshops organized by Orange County. Upcoming recommendations are likely to include adding new home-construction taxes, expanding the types of housing allowed in neighborhoods, carving out land trusts to lower costs and requiring some affordable residences in typical communities.
Developers and builders have objected to driving up costs but the various housing groups all agree that Florida lawmakers should stop raiding state funds earmarked for affordable housing. Last month, the Legislature bucked its own task-force recommendations by diverting $185 million from housing trust funds to spend on school safety. That left just $109 million behind for down-payment programs, rental assistance, senior housing aid and other programs. It was the 11th consecutive year legislators dipped into housing funds to pay for other needs.
“Florida is one of the few states with the set-aside to fund affordable housing and the Legislature is choosing to funnel it to other places. …” said Sandy Hostetter, Central Florida president of Valley National Bank. The lender helped finance the $40 million Pendana project.
Legislation to protect the housing funds died in an appropriations committee that included Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Republican representing parts of south Lake County. She did not respond to phone calls.
At Pendana on a recent weekday morning, applicants lined up outside the door to the leasing office. The private-public partnership is able to offer below-market rents there because the nonprofit Lift Orlando group leveraged donated land, tax credits and other tools. Some units are rented out based on the tenants’ income — as little as 30 percent of residents’ income on select units. Other units are priced starting at $593 a month and market-rate units start at $850.
But creating another Pendana has become less likely because state and federal spending isn’t prioritizing it, Hostetter said.
The problem is particularly acute in Osceola County, which has sought solutions to house its growing population of working-class residents. Possibly thousands of residents pay about $1,200 a month to live in old hotels along U.S. Highway 192, said Susan Caswell, assistant community development administrator for Osceola, and lack the deposits and other upfront fees for better housing.
To push affordable living, the county has expedited building permits, partnered on down-payment assistance programs and allowed deferral or subsidies of impact fees. Unlike some other counties, it also embraces renters living in garage apartments. Caswell said Osceola may soon consider charging impact fees based on the size of a house rather than the number of bedrooms in an effort to encourage smaller houses.
Builders are constructing three- and four-bedroom houses when smaller and more affordable homes are needed the most in a county with average wages of $33,000, she said.
“We have made production easier, quicker and less expensive, but our fundamental issue is that our builders are building a type of housing that does not meet a need,” Caswell added.
But production home builders say they are delivering what the market demands with an eye to making a profit.
“We serve the market. We don’t control it,” said Alex Martin, division president for Mattamy Homes. “I build what I’m told. I serve the regulators and the buyers.”
Atlantic Housing Partners Principal Scott Culp said Osceola’s recent hike in residential construction taxes called impact fees has forced his company to question whether it can afford to build there. Local governments should instead call for a portion of housing to be affordably priced in new neighborhoods such as Lake Nona the way Orlando required it for Creative Village just west of downtown, he said.
Funds “would go much further and you need to require it everywhere,” he said.
One of the state’s leading advocates for affordable housing, Florida Housing Coalition President Jaimie Ross said local governments might need to guard against losing existing affordable complexes. Developers of those projects had to offer reduced rents — for a limited time — in exchange for getting up-front construction funds through the sale of federal tax credits. She warned that new political pressures from developers to further limit the time those projects must offer lower rents have mounted.
“We need to make sure we don’t lose the housing we have created,” she said.
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