Disney to build 1,400 affordable rental homes at Walt Disney World

Apr 20 2023, 1:37 am

The House of Mouse is building affordable rental homes within its Walt Disney World Resort property in Central Florida.

Disney announced today construction will begin in 2024 on the first phase of its new neighbourhood of about 1,400 affordable rental homes, located west of Magic Kingdom theme park.

This represents an increase of about 100 units from the initial 2022 announcement on the project.

Disney is providing about 80 acres for the development, and partnering with affordable housing developer The Michaels Organization to build and operate this new residential complex.

These new homes will be open to qualifying applications based on income range, including Disney cast members (staff).

The first phase is anticipated to reach completion in 2026.

“We hope to make a positive impact wherever we can in our community, so to be able to offer more units means even more Florida families will get access to attainable housing, in addition to creating new Florida jobs as part of the construction and operation,” reads a statement by Disney.

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Location of the affordable rental housing project at Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida. (Disney)

Walt Disney World Resort is the largest employer in Central Florida, providing 80,000 jobs across its four full-scale theme parks, various water parks, over 30 themed resort hotels, and vast public transit system — all within an area of over 100 sq km. Disney World is expected to see 50 million visitors in 2023.

In recent years, the cost of living and housing in the area has increased significantly, which has placed upward pressure on Disney to increase its compensation and benefits for workers, which was achieved last month.

Disney will also be increasingly competing for the same pool of labour as a result of Universal’s aggressive expansion in the area, specifically with the 2025 opening of Universal Orlando Resort’s third full-scale theme park, called Epic Universe. About 14,000 positions will need to be filled for the major new theme park, which will likely add to housing pressures in the area.

Earlier this month, during Disney’s annual shareholder meeting, Disney CEO Bob Iger announced the company plans to invest US$17 billion (CA$23 billion) into Disney World over the next 10 years and create 13,000 jobs. This is expected to include significant expansions to its theme park offerings.

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Cinderella Castle at Magic Kingdom during the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

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Spaceship Earth at Epcot during the Walt Disney World 50th Anniversary Celebration. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

But all of this also comes in the backdrop of Disney’s ongoing public legal battle against Florida governor Ron DeSantis, who has been targeting Disney World ever since the company’s response to the state’s anti-LGBTQ law last year.

DeSantis subsequently retaliated by dissolving Disney’s unique self-governance and control over Reedy Creek Improvement District. But in an act of defiance, earlier this year, before the Disney-controlled board was dissolved, the old district government signed a contract wth Disney that gives the company significant control over the very long term, and strips the powers of the new DeSantis-appointed board. A clause in the contract maintains that the agreement will stand until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, the king of England.

On Tuesday, the governor, who is a potential 2024 US presidential candidate, suggested the state government could consider establishing a protected state park in Disney World, building a new state prison or rival theme park next to Disney’s theme parks, and subjecting Disney World rides to state inspectors instead of the current self-inspections. This adds to earlier threats on imposing road tolls at the entrances into Disney World and new taxes.

On Wednesday, the DeSantis-appointed board voted to give itself “superior authority” over Disney and the area where Disney World is located, suggesting Disney’s King Charles III agreement is null and void because the previous board did not send notice in the mail to all affected property owners before holding a public hearing.

The highly charged saga continues to unfold. It remains to be seen whether this will be battled out in or outside the court system.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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