City offers free land for affordable housing

By Rachel Christian

Staff Writer

The city of Kissimmee is hoping to spur affordable housing growth by enticing developers with a sweet deal – free land.

The city sent out a Request for Letter of Interest Feb. 9, offering up 19 acres of prime real estate near John Young Parkway, just west of downtown Kissimmee. City officials say they are looking for developers to construct up to 400 mixed-income rental-housing units.

“The lack of affordable housing is an issue city leaders have been working to address,” said City Deputy Manager Desiree Matthews. “A private company would be in charge of operating the facility, and the city would facilitate the process, and have the final say on what it will look like and other details.”

Officials are looking for a mix of one, two- and three-bedroom units with rental prices that comply with Housing and Urban Development rates for low-income and very low-income families. The developer would also partner with an area nonprofit to provide residents with wrap-around services like job training and case management to serve as long term solutions to poverty.

Matthews said her office is now waiting to see what the market brings in.

“The fact this land is being offered for free is extremely beneficial for developers with experience in this area,” she said. “It saves them a lot of money, and makes affordable housing a more viable option.”

Osceola County’s homeless population – especially families living in motels along the U.S. Highway 192 corridor – spurred the city to offer free land to developers, Matthews said.

The site has a lot to offer future residents. It is adjacent to a new section of the Shingle Creek Regional Trail, which connects Kissimmee’s downtown lakefront and Shingle Creek.

The lot is also next to the HOPE Community, a transitional housing unit for mothers and their children.

The city closed the developer application process Wednesday. Matthews said city planners would now evaluate each proposal in March and then pass on recommendations to city commissioners, who will make the final call.

The city will help facilitate the design and negotiation process, but Matthews said it won’t cost Kissimmee money to do so.

Matthews said she doesn’t believe the new affordable housing project will solve Osceola County’s homeless problem, but thinks it’s a good start.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.