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Jerry Demings launches Orange County housing effort

Demings calls for housing plans to create social and economic integration.

Faced with, by some measures, one of the worst markets in the country for affordable housing, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings Friday launched a new study group charged with coming up with solutions.

Demings on Friday opened his “Housing For All” task force’s six-month effort by charging it come up with an action plan thta he and the Orange County Commission might use “to change the narrative around housing availability and affordability.”

The effort comes in a community where apartments are in universally-acknowledged short supply, the median home price has risen rapidly to $290,000, and the median family income is below $58,000 a year. The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, report that more than 110,000 Orange County households spend more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing, Demings pointed out.

Throughout Orange County, but also into neighboring counties, the shortage particularly of affordable and available housing combined with the rapid population growth is being declared a crisis, even by chamber of commerce groups.

Demings also has declared a housing crisis in Orange County and pledged a response. On Friday he noted “the average family cannot afford this price point,” referring to the housing prices. Yet, to date, that response has been largely undefined, except through assurances of planning and eventual action. The task force kicks that off.

“We are committed in Orange County to change the direction of accessible housing because everyone deserves a safe and affordable place to live and raise a family,” Demings told the task force.

The 38-member task force is co-chaired by LIFT Orlando Chief Operating Officer Terry Prather and The Keewin Real Property Company owner Allan Keen, with a sprinkling of developers, non-profit leaders, community organizers, and business interests.

“We need to encourage diversity of housing types and energy-efficient housing,” Demings told the task force at its inaugural meeting at the Orange County Administration Building. “Preserve existing affordable housing stock, including financially-assisted and rent-restricted units, promote social and economic integration, and improve financial literacy and education.”

In his 2018 campaign for mayor, Demings and both of his two rivals, Pete Clarke and Rob Panepinto all made housing a top priority issue. But while Clarke and particularly Panepinto rolled out detailed proposals during the campaign, Demings largely deferred, to a commitment for planning. With the exceptions of broad statements such as those he made Friday on preserving existing housing stock and promoting economic integration, he has not offered much glimpse into solutions he might embrace.

“It is a daunting task,” said Keen, a developer who used to chair the region’s expressway authority board.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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