Rendering of the planned Barnett Villas apartments.
Source: FK Architecture

Central Florida’s Orange County is taking bold steps toward reframing the power structure for affordable housing funding in the state. Recently, the County awarded more than $13 million from its own new Housing Trust Fund to four local Floridian developers specializing in affordable multifamily housing projects.

RVi wrote and designed the winning proposal for the top-ranked developer, Banyan Development Group, and will be providing landscape architecture services on their new project located west of downtown Orlando. The four affordable housing communities receiving part of the fund will add more than 500 apartments to the Greater Orlando area when completed by 2023.

Florida has had a state-wide affordable housing fund since 1992, known as the William F. Sadowski Act. But over the past 20 years, legislators have siphoned almost $2.2 billion from the fund to either balance their budgets each year  or fund other projects, meaning The Sadowski fund is routinely left with little to contribute toward affordable housing development.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Orlando has routinely ranked at the bottom of apartment affordability in the country in recent years. Orange County’s Mayor Jerry Demings pledged to tackle affordable housing during his 2018 campaign, and upon election assembled a 38-member “Housing for All” Task Force.

That task force drafted a 10-year action plan to preserve and create 30,300 affordable housing units over the next decade, and a key first step was establishing a local pool of money that would be able to replenish itself.

So, Orange County established its own Affordable Housing Trust Fund, becoming only the second municipality in Florida to do so. The fund was initially seeded with $10 million in 2020 from property tax revenue increases and has increased by an additional 10 percent annually.

The county’s proposed 2021-22 budget includes $12.1 million for the trust fund, which has a current balance of $21 million. In past years, the county would typically have just enough funding to help finance one affordable housing project, so making the leap to four projects this year is noteworthy.

RVi’s client, Orlando-based Banyan Development Group, was awarded $5 million by the county toward their planned 156-unit Barnett Villas affordable apartment community. The site lies just west of the public Barnett Park, and Banyan pledged to set aside 39 units for very-low-income households.

Aerial view of proposed site

Our Orlando office is also currently providing landscape architecture services on another large scale affordable and mixed-income multifamily development in the tourism corridor of Orange County. We have also supported the Laurel Creek affordable multifamily development in Austin, Texas, with Foundation Communities, providing landscape architecture, contextual modeling, and 3D visualization services.

Building rendering of Laurel Creek