ORLANDO, Fla. — Amid one of the worst affordable-housing crises in the nation, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and other Central Florida leaders on Friday hopped aboard a bus to tour affordable-home communities they touted as successes.
- Demings' Housing for All task force convenes for 1st time
- Group aims to come up with solutions to affordable housing crisis
- Demings, Central Florida leaders toured affordable housing areas
- READ IT: National Low Income Housing Coalition's March 2019 report on the affordable housing crisis (PDF)
But, before they could highlight housing wins, Demings' Housing for All task force convened for the first time, during April's Fair Housing Month. More than 30 professionals from real estate, health care, energy, and the nonprofit sector sat for a roundtable discussion at the Orange County Administration Center in downtown Orlando, laying the framework for the next six months of meetings.
"Now is the time to roll up our sleeves... (and) develop a blueprint to tackle housing needs," Demings said, before having members introduce themselves.
The subcommittees will meet at least eight times, according to the county. In October, the group is set to make recommendations for how to solve the crisis.
"Those who are building houses are building homes that are more expensive," Demings said. "We're going to have to do a workaround to create things like land trusts in this community, be innovative in our approach to taking existing nonresidential structures and adapting them."
However, the county mayor said solving the affordable housing crisis takes more than creating housing stock. Central Florida was recently ranked the worst in the country for affordable housing. Its the primarily service-based economy has been accompanied by lower wages. So diversifying the economy and better preparing the workforce for high-tech and health-science jobs is key, Demings said.
Demings also said that local governments need to streamline land-use processes to speed along projects, access state funding and form public-private partnerships.
One example is Habitat for Humanity's Arbor Bend community, one of the stops on the Fair Housing Bus Tour.
"Our development in Arbor Bend has been an amazing collaboration with Orange County, and to be able to showcase how Habitat is dealing in and around the housing spectrum is a proud moment for us," said Catherine McManus, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Orlando's president and CEO.
Orange County government collaborated with the nonprofit, donating land and $1.7 million to get the process off the ground, Demings said. Habitat then harnessed donations and rallied local builders to keep costs down, building 34 homes in south Apopka.
"We're doing our best to help hardworking individuals and families have that American dream of purchasing their own home, not just buy the home itself, but also by educating and empowering them through classes and sweat equity as they help their own neighbor build their house," McManus said.
One of those first-time homebuyers was Shawntia Benton.
Last April, Spectrum News 13 profiled Benton, who had struggled for years to find housing she could afford for herself, her 4-year-old son and unborn baby. Then Benton contacted Habitat to learn about Arbor Bend.
"I was like, 'Baby, Mommy's going to get you your own one bedroom, and it's going to be a house.' He's like, 'Really Mommy?'" said Benton last spring.
The bus tour left from the Orange County Administration Center at 11 a.m., stopping first at Brixton Landing, an affordable housing community for seniors located along 13th Street in Apopka.
"In my dream world, I'd no longer have a job, because everyone would have an affordable house. Unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen in my lifetime. I want to see people come together on creative solution," McManus said. "It's not just a 'you or me or them' issue. Everyone has the right to fair, decent and affordable housing."