Terry Prather, Advisor, Lift Orlando (former CEO/Sea World and participant on Orange County Housing Task Force)
Hot Topics Review
League of Women Voters of Orange County, Florida
June 14, 2023, Hot Topics Program, Give Me Shelter: Innovative Solutions to Our Housing Crisis
Beth Kassab, Editor of the Winter Park Voice moderated the conversation with panelists including Mitchell Glasser, Orange County Housing Manager, Terry Prather, Senior Advisor Lift Orlando and Ryan Von Weller, Chief Operating Officer, Wendover Housing Partners. The conversation covered many parts of the complicated puzzle of housing and provided innovative solutions. Identifying land, financing, tax incentives, proximity to employment centers, transportation to where people need to be, food access, legislation, federal/state/local government requirements, NIMBY (not in my back yard); all of these contribute to making housing solutions complicated. And add to that the addition of 1,000 newcomers to Central Florida every week. The need for housing could be a cliffhanger. For this panel, that is simply not an option.
Mitchell Glasser provided some history of the local situation explaining that the shortage today has its roots in the Great Recession of 2007-8, with foreclosures and a decline in new housing construction. Locally, our community is still playing catch up. Add to that housing backlog the rental crisis that emerged during the COVID pandemic. He also referenced Mayor Jerry Demings/Orange County Housing Task Force and “Housing For All” a ten year action plan, with a goal to create more diversified housing.
Ryan Von Weller talked about the need for the continued need to educate the public especially on terminology, stating “A Wendover community looked like any other community, the only difference is the rent charged.” A person driving by would not even know. He also talked about the innovative project which Wendover Housing Partners was selected as the result of a competitive bid process to partner with Universal to design, build and manage Catchlight Crossing, creating 1,000 new units that will be close to work, with a Montessori school, health care center, and co-location of schools, both Orange County Public Schools and University of Central Florida. The community is built on land valued at $30 million which was donated for the planned community. Wendover’s participation to build and manage the community is possible through a complex network of funding streams, tax incentives, etc. Bottomline, the development is creating a community that is close to work. It will make a huge difference to Universal staff and other tourism-based workers who will call the new community home.
Panelist Terry Prather agreed with his colleagues that the problem can seem insurmountable, but he believes that Lift Orlando, Catchlight Crossing and other developments are possible because “individuals feel a sense of responsibility to do something, and that is what drives innovations and new solutions.” Housing often is linked to poverty, and that for solutions to be successful, a holistic approach was necessary, considering health, education, housing and housing is not just housing, but also affordability, financing and land. Terry Prather also believes it is important to work with residents. The success of Lift Orlando, another local housing innovation, was that they worked with residents, identifying what they needed and wanted, and it was Orlando Lift’s job to work with the City, County and business community to identify the resources and make it happen. Prather underscored that public private partnerships are essential.
The conversation included the new Live Local Act, Senate Bill 102. Briefly, it is the largest investment in housing by the State of Florida in more than 30 years, including $711 million, fully funding the Sadowski Trust Fund, a ten (10) year commitment to fully funding identified programs, and making up any difference. Von Weller responded to a question if it was enough, “No, it is never enough, but you have to start somewhere, and this is that start.”
To close out the discussion, moderator Beth Kassab asked what can the League and community members do?
Terry Prather: The City Beautiful is not so beautiful for everyone. For those who are struggling, these are our neighbors. For the benefit of our neighbors, we must get involved, in some way, to make a difference.
Ryan Von Weller: We’ve got resources in place now from the State. We must all become engaged. We all have a vested interest.
Mitchell Glasser: With the financial commitment from the state and the County’s Vision 2050 comprehensive plan, we have an opportunity to grow differently, to build a diversified housing stock and with advocacy, we can make it happen.
If this issue resonates with you, we urge you to join our Housing and/or Transportation Committees, become part of making a difference with the League of Women Voters of Orange County. You can contact Samia Solh, Housing, at firstname.lastname@example.org and Theo Webster, Transportation at email@example.com
CLICK BELOW TO VIEW RECORDING on YOUTUBE ⬇️
Charley Williams hosted HT Overtime yesterday with panelists shown L-R: Mitchell Glasser, Ryan Von Weller, Terry Prather, and Charley.
Hot Topics Overtime is an opportunity to extend the conversation with our guests, allowing you to ask your own questions. Of note, Mr. Glasser informed us that Orange County becomes the owner of "extra property" from time to time due to Tax/Deed issues and they purposefully make some of this property available to housing non-profits.
HT Overtime is held after Hot Topics in the upstairs community room of the Winter Park Library