Universal Picks Developer To Bring Affordable Housing Vision To Life For Orange County

Apr 13, 2021

After a months-long national search, Universal Parks & Resorts has selected a developer to design, build and manage an affordable housing community near the International Drive corridor – an area identified as high priority by Orange County’s Housing for All Task Force.

This is a first-ever approach that brings a theme park entertainment company and its pledge of land and creative resources together with an experienced affordable housing developer to find a unique solution to one of Central Florida’s most pressing issues. The scope and scale of this initiative are expected to reach near-record levels for affordable housing communities across the nation.

Wendover Housing Partners, based in Altamonte Springs, will bring Universal’s vision for affordable housing to life on a 20-acre site Universal has pledged for the initiative. The community will include 1,000 high-quality apartments as well as 16,000 square-feet of retail space, with construction expected to begin in late 2022.

Ownership of the site has been transferred from Universal to a not-for-profit established by the company called Housing for Tomorrow whose role is to oversee the initiative and make sure it remains true to the original vision. Housing for Tomorrow will retain ownership of the site and serve as Master Developer – entering a $10-a-year/55-year lease for the property with Wendover. Housing for Tomorrow’s charter states its mission is: “Providing and preserving housing for low- and moderate-income people that is safe, secure and affordable in perpetuity.”

As master developer, Housing for Tomorrow will set guidelines for the community and will work with Wendover and Orange County to move the plan forward. Wendover will seek its own financing for the project.

• Universal Creative—the group within Universal Parks & Resorts that designs and builds theme parks, theme park attractions and hotels will work with Wendover on the overall plan for the new community.
• Affordable housing communities typically rely on a mix of resident income and rent levels – using higher rents to offset more affordable rents. This development’s size and a stipulation that at least 75 percent of its apartments be dedicated to affordable housing means this community will add affordable housing to Central Florida housing market at near-record national levels.
• The agreement between Housing for Tomorrow and Wendover will require Wendover to oversee the community for at least 55 years, creating a long-term commitment to the community and its residents.
• The agreement will create an annual certification process that allows Housing for Tomorrow to ensure key guidelines regarding the right mix of residents, amenities and quality of life are met in all the years to come.

Wendover was selected from five finalists by a Universal selection committee that included key Universal team members and community representatives. A total of 17 developers submitted initial proposals.

Wendover Housing Partners has been building, financing and managing affordable housing communities for families and active seniors for more than 30 years. As one of the Southeast’s premier affordable housing and workforce housing companies, Wendover has built a portfolio of affordable and mixed-income developments to create housing opportunities in a variety of economically and socially diverse neighborhoods.

“This is an unprecedented partnership between a major company in the community and a private developer to work together to design a community that is close to where people work, filled with amenities that they want and with rents they can afford,” said Jonathan L. Wolf, founder and CEO of Wendover Housing Partners. “We see this as a model for the rest of the country to show how this type of partnership can be used to address the critical need for innovative affordable housing solutions.”

“Affordable Housing is one of our community’s biggest challenges and we want to be part of the solution,” said John Sprouls, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Universal Parks & Resorts. “We have brought people with the right expertise together with land to create a new affordable housing community – and a new approach to this issue. Wendover’s willingness to enter a long-term commitment, its experience with affordable housing in our state and its solid financing model will help us make sure we succeed.”

“As Co-chair of the Housing For All Task Force that Mayor Demings created, we learned there was no single solution to the affordable housing crisis in Orange County. The commitment Universal Studios has made is a great example of how our business community can be part of the solution,” said Terry Prather, Chief Operation Officer of Lift Orlando and a member of Universal’s Housing for All Committee.

“I was thrilled when Universal stepped up to help solve our affordable housing crisis,” said Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings. “When public and private organizations, and the government, come together great things happen. This housing initiative is a primary example of such collaboration.”

“This is a powerful answer to what Mayor Demings and our affordable housing task force called for as we worked to solve our community’s affordable housing crisis,” said Victoria Siplin, Orange County District 6 commissioner, whose district will include the new community.

Criteria used to select Wendover included:

• Community Resident Focus: a commitment to resident satisfaction
• Community Design and Development: a commitment to high-quality, livable, design
• Community Operation and Maintenance: a commitment to an affordable community that offers a high quality of life
• Development Organization: a commitment to a high-quality team to develop and manage the new community, demonstrated expertise in affordable housing and a track record of success
• Development Financing: commitment to a sound financial plan to cover both the development and long-term sustainability of the community

Universal Orlando Housing for All Committee Vision Statement

We believe access to affordable housing is a human right. We strongly support the findings and recommendations of Orange County’s Housing for All Task Force. We will play an active, leadership role in helping our community move solutions forward.

• We are creating a community where residents will be the priority
• We will create a neighborhood that inspires and enables personal growth and is a place where residents are proud to live
• We will value and prioritize diversity and inclusiveness – by all and for all
• We will create and embrace a new kind of public-private partnership dedicated to innovation on behalf of our residents
• We will search out national best practices that will help guide us – and we will create new national standards and best practices when we see opportunity