By Charlie Reed
For the News-Gazette
The top Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives came to Kissimmee last weekend as the 2018 election season heats up this summer.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, stopped by the future site of
Community Hope Center Village on Old Vineland Road and later to a political event in Solivita.
Pelosi was there with fellow Democrat Rep. Darren Soto, who had given the House minority leader a tour of Kissimmee’s tourist corridor on U.S. Highway 192. Featured in an Oscar-nominated film, the strip of highway is where many families and individuals now live in motels, one step from nowhere to go. People living in secluded, wooded areas and on the streets are also prevalent in and around U.S. 192. Lack of affordable housing and homelessness are among Osceola County’s greatest challenges and has come into sharp focus with the influx of storm evacuees from Puerto Rico who’ve come to Osceola since Hurricane Maria last September.
“There’s simply not enough affordable housing to go around at this time,” said Rev. Mary Downey, executive director of the Community Hope Center, in a speech and prayer she gave before introducing Pelosi.
“The faith-based community and government are unified to find a solution for all God’s people,” Downey said.
The private nonprofit has brought together Osceola’s faith-based community with dozens of local, state and federal government partners and has established itself as the leading local organization addressing and correcting the problem.
The center offers food and clothes for clients, connects them with social service agencies and provides direct medical and dental exams, cancer screenings and other healthcare at its headquarters on U.S. 192.
Community Hope Village will expand its reach to include housing through a $200,000 grant from the United Methodist Conference and support from Osceola County. A construction schedule has not been announced.
The infusion of private and public funds for the project represents the organization’s mission, Downey told the crowd.
Pelosi echoed Downey’s sentiments as she spoke to the crowd, which included local politicians, Hope Center staff, clients served by the nonprofit and members of the press.
“Everyone has a spark of divinity and we have a responsibility to act on it,” she said.
The California legislator – one of the most high-profile members of the U.S. Congress – praised Soto’s work in the capitol to increase federal funding to finance, build and lease affordable housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
Affordable housing tax credits not only benefit working-class people but also developers. Federally and state-subsidized apartments and houses are often developed by private, for-profit companies. Two such businesses are working with Osceola County government and Community Hope Center on the Hope Center Village and Cameron Preserve, a nearby apartment complex under construction. Nonprofit capital investment firms are also part of the booming affordable housing industry.
Naturally, Pelosi talked politics while in town stumping for Soto, who faces re-election this year. Soto is up against Alan Grayson in next month’s Democratic primary election. Grayson, who held Florida’s Ninth District seat in the house directly before Soto, resigned his seat in the house for a failed run for U.S. Senate in 2016.
By Saturday evening, Pelosi was at Solivita, a master-planned 55-plus community on Pleasant Hill Road, speaking to residents and local Democrats running for office in the upcoming elections.