Construction at Madison Landing affordable housing complex in Winter Park.

One area of focus has been affordable senior housing. Many older adults are on lower or fixed incomes, but the rental market in Orange County has grown quickly over the last several years.

With COVID-19 taking center stage, the priority of the Orange County Government has been to keep residents safe and support businesses as the economy slowly rebounds.  Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the Housing for All Task Force has been moving ahead with its initiatives to help remedy affordable housing deficiencies in the County.

“The unprecedented unemployment rise coupled with restrictions put in place for the health and safety of residents has been a reminder that affordable housing is one of the most basic of human needs,” said Alberto Vargas, manager of planning and project leader of the Housing for All Task Force. “Residents who were already cost-burdened by their housing prior to the pandemic are finding themselves in a very difficult situation when faced with unemployment and adjusting to our new normal.’”

When the Housing for All Task Force was convened in 2019, its mission was to provide practical and long-term solutions to the already growing affordable housing crisis. Since then, Orange County has made the implementation of the task force’s recommendations a top priority.

As part of its 10-year plan, the task force recommended the County establish a Local Housing Trust Fund and set aside $10 million annually from its general revenue budget.  The trust fund would increase by 10 percent each year and encourage private contributions from large employers and other groups.

One area of focus has been affordable senior housing.  As the number of elderly Americans who are not financially prepared for retirement has grown, they are often cost-burdened by housing. Per the task force’s recommendations, the County continues to engage in public-private partnerships and has provided significant funding for the development of affordable senior housing.

In the last three years, the County has supported three new affordable senior housing developments, including Hawthorne Park Apartments (122 affordable senior units), The Preserve at Emerald Villas (96 affordable senior units), and Madison Landing (110 affordable senior units).

“Many older adults are on lower or fixed incomes, but the rental market in Orange County has grown quickly over the last several years; occupancy is full, which puts pressure on rents, and this affects all properties,” explained Mitchell Glasser, Orange County manager of Housing and Community Developments. “Our goal is to provide affordable rental units that can’t go up unless your medium income changes.”

Both Glasser and Vargas agree there is much more work to be done, but being able to build these new affordable housing developments for seniors is a significant step in the right direction.

“Nobody should be spending more than 30 percent of their gross income on rent or mortgage,” asserted Glasser. “We have to tackle the affordable housing crisis on several fronts, but we feel confident our plan will enable us to make significant progress.”

For more information on the Housing for All Task Force, go to Orange County’s website.

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