Could strip malls be a solution to Orlando’s housing crisis?

Mark Brewer, CEO and President of Central Florida Foundation says turning old strip malls into housing could be one of many solutions needed to address our lack of affordable housing in Central Florida, but the practice comes with a lot of challenges.

It’s a question our reader M. Adkins asked, and the second one we’re answering in the third month of our series on housing in Orlando.

“I recently saw a report on PBS with a gentleman who is trying to find affordable housing. Since we have a couple of thousand new people moving here every week, my question is, what about all the old strip malls, places that look abandoned — couldn’t they turn those into affordable homes?”

This isn’t the first time that this question has come up in our quest to better understand our housing crisis and find possible solutions to solve it. It was also asked in our recent panel discussion on the topic at Venture X in downtown Orlando and Mark had a similar answer then as well. So we asked him to break it down for us. 

Mark acknowledged that it was an emerging solution here and across the country and that this is not a new trend for incoming residents. But with almost 1500 people moving here per week and almost 50 percent of Orlandoans already precariously housed (meaning they could lose their housing if they miss a paycheck or have an unexpected expense), we need a faster answer, thousands of them.

“We need thousands of attainable housing units now. Build(ing) one or two at a time will not catch us up,” Mark said.

And converting old strip malls and old-style hotels and motels — places that already exist and naturally offer larger space to work with — sounds good in theory and have long been part of the discussion but challenges abound.

“Owners of this real estate sometimes retain portfolios of retail real estate in hopes it will meet the needs of a future buyer”, Mark said.  “Commercial-zoned real estate has challenges based on where it is located — much of it is in the suburbs, not on transit lines or near employers. Then, there is the capital stack needed to buy, tear down old buildings, and build something new that will be affordable when all is said and done.”

He also said that it’s a practice already used here in Central Florida for building affordable housing units for seniors and mixed-income family housing and that he expects this trend to continue.

Is there one solution to solving our housing crisis? No, there are many. And as both Adkins and Mark suggested, with over 1500 people moving to Orlando in a week, there will always be new challenges to face as we try and remedy a problem that has long been spiraling out of our control. BUT it could be a step in the right direction and certainly something to hope for.

Have questions or thoughts on your own on the future of co-housing in Central Florida? Tell us here

Made possible by Central Florida Foundation