Disney plans affordable housing to help struggling workers

Rush Hour

(NewsNation) ⁠— ⁠Disney announced Wednesday that the company will designate 80 acres of land for a new affordable housing development — available to qualifying applicants including Disney park workers.

The announcement comes as theme park workers struggling to make ends meet have settled into nearby motels.

Florida woman Ashley and her family of five are proof of that struggle. She spoke with NewsNation on Wednesday and asked to be identified only by her first name.

Ashley and her family moved to Florida to fulfill their dream of working at Disney, where her husband is a bus driver for $18 per hour. They now live in close quarters with their three dogs and a cat in a room where photos of Goofy, Pluto and Daffy Duck line the wall.

“Disney’s what we do,” Ashley said.

With inflation and rising housing prices, however, they couldn’t afford rent on a Disney wage. It’s a reality other employees are also experiencing. Ashley said she knows of at least two other Disney-working families staying at the same motel.

Disney’s revenue was $67 billion last year but they still received big tax breaks from the state of Florida.

The company also worked a deal with the state to essentially establish their own mini government on the 25,000-acre property, controlling everything from permitting to electricity.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he doesn’t support special privileges for companies just because they wield power.

“Many of the tax advantages that Disney utilizes are available to any business of their size, albeit they are certainly one of the largest in the state,” Florida press secretary Christina Pushaw said in an email.

The humble living quarters of some park employees stand in stark contrast to Disney’s luxury Golden Oaks residential community, where houses on park grounds sell for millions of dollars.

“I think they could definitely do more,” Ashley said.

On Wednesday, however, Disney announced it would designate 80 acres of land for a new affordable housing development.

The development is expected to include more than 1,300 units and will be located on Disney’s land in southwest Orange County, Florida, according to a news release.

“We are invested in working together with our community to solve complex issues,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort. “The lack of affordable housing is affecting many people across our country, including right here in Central Florida. With this initiative, we’re lending a hand to make a real and meaningful impact in our community by tapping into the best of our company’s strengths. This is the right opportunity and the right time to take action.” 

It was not immediately clear when the development might come to fruition.

Disney made headlines recently when workers spoke out against Florida’s controversial bill baring the instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. But it’s the struggles of daily life at the top of some employees’ minds, Pushaw said.

“Disney would better serve its employees and its customers by focusing on the business of the company and spending less time wading into contrived culture wars and politics — and that includes actively trying to assert any sort of agenda into children’s animated movies,” Pushaw said.

Organizers of a Disney worker walkout in Florida said LGBT employees have been pushing for years to make the company better.

“… it shouldn’t have taken all this for us to get the attention of people up the food chain. Our voices mattered before all this,” the organizers tweeted at the time.

Disney isn’t the only large employer with workers struggling to make ends meet.

Amazon employees have been known to live in their cars and Universal Studios workers have said they’re considered part time despite working more than 40 hours per week.

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