Study: Kissimmee Ranked as the Least Affordable Housing Area
According to a real estate study, Kissimmee ranks last in the Central Florida area for available affordable housing. The underlying cause of this grim statistic can be attributed to the inadequate alignment between wages and the cost of living, as well as the failure of new construction to address the housing demand in this region, as stated by Rev. Mary Downey, CEO of Hope Partnership.
The Orlando Metro Affordability Report for July 2023, released by RealtyHop, reveals that Kissimmee households spend a considerable 43.25 percent of their income on mortgage and property tax payments.
The main question arises—why are the figures so high?
RealtyHop Data Scientist Shane Lee explains, “This can be largely attributed to the disparity between lower incomes and high real estate values. While over 20 percent of Kissimmee’s population lives in poverty, the attractiveness of the area due to its proximity to Orlando and major resorts (translating into job opportunities) makes real estate more desirable for many.”
The distressing need for affordable housing in Osceola County is evident everywhere, asserts Downey.
“Motel rooms along the (U.S.) Highway corridor are occupied by members of our workforce who are raising their families in 250 square-foot spaces,” added Downey, who leads Hope Partnership—an agency dedicated to eradicating homelessness and poverty in Central Florida. “Every week, we assist nearly 100 individuals at an outreach event for the unsheltered; there are families and individuals living out of their cars. Entire tent communities exist in wooded areas throughout the county, and our agency alone receives more than 1,500 calls for assistance each month. I’m certain other organizations are witnessing the same situation.”
The core issue lies in the wage disparity with the rising cost of living. Downey states, “The average minimum wage worker must toil 92 hours every week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment. Currently, our new construction predominantly consists of three types: large single-family homes, luxury apartments, or short-term rental properties catering to vacationers. There is no economic incentive for developers to construct multifamily apartment units, condos, ‘starter homes,’ or any other housing options that facilitate rental history or entry into the housing market (with the notable exception of the Teale Apartments on 192 in Kissimmee). People are migrating to this area at a faster rate than we can construct new homes. Although efforts to pass a renter’s bill of rights have gained little momentum, and legislation to regulate the escalating housing costs has been overturned in Tallahassee.”
There is currently no availability of public housing in Osceola County. This means that even individuals with valid Section 8 vouchers are unable to utilize them. Multiple factors contribute to this situation within Osceola County.
To start addressing this issue, a change in mindset is necessary, according to Downey. The belief that everyone deserves a safe place to call home should be prioritized. Our community must focus on incentivizing and expediting the development of housing projects that cater to the “missing middle” and individuals with lower incomes. Motels can be converted into respectable apartment homes. Additionally, zoning laws that hinder innovative housing solutions need to be revisited. Moreover, modifying impact fees and government costs can ensure that affordable housing is given priority during the build-out process.
Despite these challenges, there have been positive developments locally. The Osceola County Council on Aging recently received a $5.6 million grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. This grant will be utilized to construct Buen Vecino, an affordable housing complex specifically designed for seniors aged 62 and above in Buenaventura Lakes. The complex will consist of 60 single-story, one-bedroom units. Rent will be subsidized, and residents will contribute no more than 30 percent of their income towards housing payments. The communal clubhouse will host congregate meal sites, offering lunches and various activities. Additionally, an on-site social worker will be available to address the needs of the residents. Out of 32 senior-serving organizations that applied, the Council on Aging was the sole recipient of this grant.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ocoee has been identified as the most affordable market in the Orlando Metro Area. However, it also has the highest median purchase price, which stands at $410,000, according to the study. The median income of households in Ocoee is $92,838, with only 28.79 percent of this amount allocated towards homeownership costs. Although Ocoee is currently considered affordable, rising home prices may impact housing affordability in the future, potentially exceeding the 30 percent threshold.
Overall, there is a pressing need to address the lack of public housing in Osceola County. By implementing the suggested changes and initiatives, we can strive towards ensuring safe and affordable housing for all residents.