KISSIMMEE — Along a colorful stretch of U.S. Highway 192 in Osceola County dotted with rundown, pay-by-the-week motels, advocates for low-income families that call the decrepit buildings home see a solution to the region’s housing crisis: turn the motels into affordable multi-family units.
The strip’s old motels are often the last resort for low-wage residents who can’t afford market-rate apartments or have been evicted. The Rev. Mary Lee Downey, CEO of Hope Partnership in Kissimmee, says they are the next-best answer to getting people off the streets and into safe, clean places to live after the pandemic scuttled her plans to build a complex.
But a new ordinance the county commission is expected to give final approval to on Monday threatens to make her task more difficult. The ordinance, drafted after a handful of motels were targeted to be converted into workforce housing, would require a long list of pricey upgrades that advocates, including Downey, fear will make it too expensive to remodel existing buildings.
“The reality is the cost of hotels has grown extensively in the last six months. Just to outright purchase the hotel and then there is the added cost of doing the actual conversion,” said Downey, who’s counting on a potential $1 million congressional appropriation to buy a hotel in the area. “We’re not in opposition for there to be standards placed on hotel conversions. What we could be concerned about is standards that outprice the ability to do hotel conversions.”
Conversions between Vineland Road and State Road 429 would be banned entirely, and where they are allowed on U.S. 192 the ordinance calls for an acre of recreational space for every 50 units and at least 20% of the developable land be designated for “open spaces,” liming the number of units that would be available to tenants.
For hotels west of State Road 535, at least 75% of the ground floor would need to include non-residential amenities, such as a store or restaurant, which advocates argue would require extensive renovation and sacrifice much-needed units.
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