Disney World’s Dense Affordable Housing Project Will be “the Size of a Costco Parking Lot”

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Mar 25, 2024

Have you ever wanted to live close to a Disney theme park? While California might not be the place for you, the entertainment company is building affordable housing near its Florida theme park, Disneyland.

However, residents in the area are pushing back against the plans to build so many houses on a small amount of land.

Disney’s Affordable Housing Plan

Announced in 2022, Walt Disney World confirmed that they will be building 1,410 affordable apartments in the Orlando area close to the parks. The site is located near a shopping center west of the Magic Kingdom.

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An CGI rendering of an affordable housing community

Source: Disney World Affordable Housing Plans

Disney’s plan comes as Orlando faces a housing crisis, skyrocketing shelter inflation, and a dip in attendance at the parks as Florida’s economy struggles.

Who Will Live At These Apartments?

Currently, the company plans to offer housing opportunities to cast members and families in the 80 percent Median Income (AMI) range ($49,150 to $90,000). A majority of the apartments (1,000 units) will be affordable housing units.

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Aerial Photography of Island Near Body of Water

Source: Tom Fisk/Pexels

Only 11 percent of those apartments will allow families on the lower end of the income scale to live there.

A Solution to the Housing Crisis in Orlando

Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, expressed, “We actively collaborate with our community to solve complex issues,” (via Disney Tourist Blog). “The lack of affordable housing is affecting many people across our country, including right here in Central Florida.”

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A USA flag flying in front a small house in a neighborhood

Source: Jonathan Meyer/Pexels

Vahle continues: ”With this initiative, we’re lending a hand to make a real and meaningful impact in our community by tapping into the best of our company’s strengths. This is the right opportunity and the right time to take action.”

The Project Sparks Concern

Two years ago, amid the height of the national housing crisis, the project garnered little criticism when authorities announced it. However, residents are now voicing their concerns.

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A rendering of white apartment buildings

Source: Disney World Affordable Housing Plans

Some residents in the local community believe that the project will bring large numbers of unwelcome neighbors into a community lacking resources for its current residents.

Overwhelming the Current Resources 

Horizon West resident Mike Finnan claims that Orange County has already permitted far too many high-density housing complexes in this area, asserting that infrastructure and emergency services are already stretched (via the Daily Mail).

A rendering of a neighbor hood with palm trees

Source: Disney World Affordable Housing Plans

Finnan states, “Current students are already experiencing being under-served as local schools face overcrowding and understaffing. Future projections indicate that schools will be over capacity.”

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The Neighborhood Would Be the Size of a Costco Parking Lot

Last month, the Horizon West residents claimed that Disney is “trying to pack an enormous amount of density,” which is about 50,000 future residents, “into what is essentially the size of a Costco parking lot” during a planning and zoning board meeting.

A parking lot filled with cars in front of a Costco

Source: Chris Hunkeler/Flickr

These issues started after a Disney representative shared details on the project with the community in September.

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Community Members Speak Out

The Daily Mail reported that an Orange County staff reporter observed the tone of the meeting shifting as objections and concerns grew while discussing the plans for the new residential neighborhood and the larger community, despite the care being put into them.

An aerial view of a neighborhood track with a lot of trees

Source: Jeswin Thomas/Pexels

After the meeting, several of the 100 attendees email the commissioners in the county to express their concerns.

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The Planning Commission Approves the Project

While the community felt uneasy about the project, the Orange County Planning and Zoning Commission passed Disney’s affordable housing project by a margin of 4-3 in February.

A close-up of Cinderella's castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Source: Wikimedia Commons

“We are working very thoughtfully alongside a prominent developer to create a place that strengthens the surrounding area while making a real difference in people’s lives for years to come,” Tajiana Ancora-Brown, Walt Disney World director of external affairs, said.

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The Planning Commission Suggests Scaling Down the Project

Just before passing the plan, the planning commission acknowledged neighbor concerns by suggesting that the developers scale down the project.

A CGI rendering of a local neighborhood with two pools

Source: Disney World Affordable Housing Plans

It is unclear if Disney will scale the project down since the board passed the ordinance on the proposed plans.

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Challenges Confront the Project Plans

A month later, the commissioners will have to decide to appeal the project in another vote this week at the First District Court of Appeals in Tallahassee.

An overview of a row of houses surrounding by trees

Source: David McBee/Pexels

No matter the outcome of the appeal case, community members like Stephen Lewis, the president & CEO of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce, believe this will benefit the community of Horizon West.

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A Win for the Community

“Currently many of the businesses we represent are struggling to recruit and retain workers due to the limited supply of affordable and attainable housing in Orange County,” Lewis told the Sentinel Monday in an email (via the Daily Mail).

A flock of birds along the everglades at sunset

Source: Ray Bilcliff/Pexels

Lewis continued: “Ensuring affordable housing is available for West Orange residents is critical to the success of our county and will help grow small businesses and bring long-awaited amenities to the residents of Horizon West.”

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