Affordable housing: The elephant in Central Florida’s room

Central Florida doesn’t have sufficient affordable housing, so family homelessness grows. David Swanson and Brendan O’Connor lead off with comments about the lack of homes that people can afford, as 100 of Central Florida’s most influential people weigh in on current events. Read their thoughts on the biggest stories of the week and see what they think will make headlines next week.

David D. Swanson, senior pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Orlando

THE ELEPHANT IN CENTRAL FLORIDA’S ROOM. Last week: Metro Orlando was revealed to be the eighth-fastest-growing region in the country, adding another 56,000 residents with almost half of those coming from Puerto Rico. This news again pushes us toward the elephant in the room: We don’t have sufficient affordable housing, so family homelessness grows. It’s time to learn from California and Tokyo and start aggressively building with the assistance of government funding and policy. As much as I love free-market capitalism, developers are going to build only what profits them. We are falling further and further behind, so it’s time for our jurisdictional leaders to step in and take action.

Last week: The U.S. Census Bureau just released some data that says Orlando metro area added almost 400,000 residents between 2010 and 2017. We are now in the top metropolitan areas in population growth and it’s not slowing down. Couple that growth with a lack in affordable housing, though, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. We need a smart housing strategy that allows us to grow without sprawling and focusing development back in our core neighborhoods so we can improve infrastructure where people are already living.

EMPOWER MAIN STREET DISTRICTS. Looking ahead: It’s time to give our Main Street districts some teeth. These work horses (are supposed to) act as liaisons between our small business community and the City of Orlando. They help new shops open and stay open, and there’s even a historic preservation component in there somewhere; not that you’d know from the development we’re seeing lately. Main Streets are only partially-funded by the City, and they’re actually on a sliding scale of investment from City Hall that dwindles each year; the idea being that after a while they should be self-sustaining. But when you look at struggling programs like Ivanhoe Village, they’re lucky to pay their director’s salary at the end of the month, let alone host events and save local landmarks. It’s time to fully fund these essential programs and empower them with decision-making power that can better shape and mold their own unique development patterns before everything looks like a stucco-covered shopping center.

Last week: 116.5 million — that is how many tourists came to Florida last year, according to a Visit Florida’s report. That is a 3.6 percent increase over 2016. Orlando’s 2017 numbers are not yet released, but we can expect more of the same. Visit Orlando recently reported that the local hotel occupancy rate for the month of February (83.9 percent) was the highest February since 1997 (84.9 percent). That statistic is old enough to celebrate with champagne. And celebrate, we should. Those 116 million visitors drive our economy. So, when you see a hotelier, destination marketer, local elected official, theme-park operator and the countless service staff who support the industry, say thanks.

Looking ahead:

Lee Constantine, commissioner, Seminole County

Last week: ‘FLORIDA’S NATURAL CHOICE’: Looking ahead: Despite the recent victory to protect Seminole County’s rural boundary against a hostile takeover by aggressive development interests, we must be diligent. The battle will continue, and our citizens must be strong in protecting our quality of life. Seminole County is a unique place where enlightened conservatives embrace progressive, compassionate policies. Just in the next month, three awards will be presented to Seminole County: from the Sierra Club for the state’s strongest fertilizer ordinance; the Florida Wildlife Federation for our state’s first urban bear ordinance; and the National Humane Society for the first county to ban puppy mills. As our residents know, Seminole County is “Florida’s Natural Choice.”

Earl Crittenden Jr., president of Crittenden Fruit Co. Inc. and chair of onePULSE Foundation

ERODING FLIER’S BILL OF RIGHTS. Last week: The U.S. Department of Transportation is attempting to weaken or eliminate the few meaningful consumer protection regulations for travelers. Sadly, the popular so-called Tarmac Delay Rule is one of the agency’s prime targets. The near-decade old rule was created to allow fliers to disembark from delayed planes and avoid being trapped for hours, hostage to airlines’ whims. As airlines are seeing soaring profits, transportation industry lobbyists are pressuring the agency and citing regulation duress. Meanwhile, Orlando’s airport is now the busiest in Florida, and stripping millions of passengers of their few existing protections will not bode well. Shame on the Department of Transportation.

TEXTING 911. Looking ahead: Orange County now joins the areas of the United States that uses technology that allows texting 911 for emergency assistance. At first it seems like the idea of texting for help is perhaps the brainchild of a communication-phobic millennial, but the service could actually be a good option in situations where stealth is paramount, such as with domestic violence. Bravo to County leaders for keeping innovation on the forefront. Our region is greatly served by their leadership on this.

Rich Crotty, former mayor, Orange County

Last week:

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