Florida theme parks creating more housing for employees

A large portion of Florida’s economy relies on tourism, especially as major Orlando-area theme parks including Universal Studios Florida and Walt Disney World.

But the parks — which employ an estimated 110,000 people collectively — are also facing headwinds due to their employees’ struggles to afford housing, and now both NBCUniversal and The Walt Disney Company — owners of the major parks — are aiming to address it, according to reporting from Bloomberg.

For Universal Studios employees, the owners of the park are seeking to construct a 1,000-unit mixed-use development slated to open in 2026 that would promise a short commute to the Universal Orlando Resort, which is also aiming to open a full-scale third theme park called “Epic Universe” next year.

“To launch the project, Universal donated 20 acres of land adjacent to the Orange County convention center,” the Bloomberg report reads. “Called Catchlight Crossings and built in partnership with local developer Wendover Housing Partners, the project broke ground in November.”

Disney is also looking to get more involved in housing its employees, announcing in 2022 that it would “donate 80 acres for a proposed 1,450-unit affordable development a few miles to the southwest,” Bloomberg reported. “Also set to open in 2026, the project would be built near Flamingo Crossings Village, a campus for participants in Disney’s college internship program that also leases units to some Disney World cast members.”

The company also announced significant new investments in its Parks, Experiences and Products segment, expecting to “nearly double capital expenditures over the course of approximately 10 years to roughly $60 billion, including by investing in expanding and enhancing domestic and international parks and cruise line capacity,” the company said last September.

Both companies have faced criticisms in recent years for underpaying their theme park employees, especially as housing costs have risen precipitously.

“The average tenant in the [Central Florida] region saw their monthly rent jump by $600 between early 2020 and early 2023,” Bloomberg reported. “According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metro area has one of the worst affordable housing shortages in the U.S., with only 15 available units for every 100 extremely low-income renter households.”