Oviedo Mayor Megan Sladek said folks who have become homeless often talk to her as she rides her bicycle or walks around the city, which is how, she said, she is aware of the increasing number of Oviedoans who are homeless because of the pandemic.
At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Sladek proposed a new land-use designation that would allow alternative housing options, such as micro-apartments and duplexes, where only single-family homes are currently allowed in Oviedo. Sladek said it would increase the pool of affordable housing in the city.
The land use, called “Residential Transitional,” would allow up to 20 residential units per acre on properties that are within 200 feet of state roads, county roads and four-lane roadways. The properties would have to also be within half a mile of the three areas’ boundaries that are proposed to allow the highest residential density in the city’s comprehensive plan update: The old downtown, Oviedo on the Park and the Oviedo Mall.
The city is currently updating its comprehensive plan, which shows the state where the next 25 years’ population growth should go within the city.
Sladek’s proposal for staff to study this land use further did not gain consensus at the City Council meeting. Councilwoman Natalie Teuchert said allowing something like this might upset residents. “I think what we’re trying to do [with the comprehensive plan] is keep Oviedo sustainable and still have that small-town feel, and I worry if we go through all the streets and change the zoning, it would change the feel of Oviedo,” she said.
Councilman Jeff Boddiford said he didn’t see the value in the $64,000 it would cost to continue to study this new land use.
Seminole County Housing Authority Executive Director Shannon Young said there is an affordable housing crisis in all of Central Florida, but especially in Seminole County, because so many of the apartment options in the area are considered “luxury”.
There are about 2,000 people in the county on the waitlist for public housing and rental vouchers, nearly 100 of whom are from Oviedo and 41 from Winter Springs. A “rental voucher” means that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) pays for part of a qualifying person’s rent.
There are five apartment buildings that are considered affordable in Oviedo (Oviedo Town Center, Covington Club Rental Townhomes, Mystic Cove Apartments, The Enclave at Alafaya, and Avid at Loma Vista) and one in Winter Springs (Moss Park Apartments). Young said most of these properties have waiting lists.
“The available units are almost non-existent in Seminole County,” she wrote in an email to OCN.
Sladek said it is not realistic to wait for developers to build affordable housing.
“Housing is not affordable here,” she said. “For [developers] to get those numbers to work, they’ve got to be market-rate units.”
The amount of federal funding that agencies such as the Seminole Housing Authority rely on to build public housing only covers about 10 to 12 projects a year in the entire state, Young said. Her office has been applying for that funding to rebuild and expand the public housing campus in Oviedo, which sits behind Jackson Heights Middle School, for the last six years without success.
To qualify for public housing, a family of four would earn less than $40,000 in income.
In the meantime, Young said her office is considering purchasing housing, such as duplexes in the area, to turn them into affordable housing for its clients.
The county has also noticed a rise in need. Seminole County has provided federal Covid-related emergency-housing assistance to 1,078 households in Oviedo and Winter Springs since September 2020, costing $5.7 million.
The number of homeless people in Seminole County increased from 252 in 2019 to 372 in 2020. The figures were not available for 2021 because officials were not able to perform a full count. The 2022 figures are expected in May.
“We’ve got people who have been part of our community for decades and this past year, with a 23% increase in rents, there are people who have jobs, who have families, who are living in their cars,” Sladek said. “I’m concerned that we’re not taking any steps to enable people to build housing that’s attainable.”
Sladek said the housing proposal she outlined at the meeting could also be considered later, when the City Council updates its Land Development Code, an 18-month process that’s expected to start in June.