Seeking housing solutions for the “missing middle”

This is the second installment of an ongoing housing series exploring housing-related issues and solutions in Greater Oviedo and Winter Springs.

This is the second installment of an ongoing housing series exploring housing-related issues and solutions in Greater Oviedo and Winter Springs. Read our first piece on gentrification and affordable housing in Oviedo. Scroll to the bottom for an explainer about the series and the audience listening work involved. 

As housing costs continue to rise across Florida, attainable housing is becoming more difficult to find.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development defines affordable housing as “housing on which the occupant is paying no more than 30 percent of gross income for housing costs, including utilities,” according to its website, and households spending more than 30 percent are considered cost burdened. Affordable housing also includes subsidized housing for those earning 80% or less than the area median income (AMI). The median income in Seminole County is about $70,000.

In its effort to help with the housing crisis, Seminole County also follows the attainable, or workforce housing, model, which includes households earning up to 140% of the AMI or just under $100,000 a year. Those earning between 120% and 140% AMI ($84,000-$98,000) are considered the “missing middle,” according to Seminole County Community Development Division Manager Stacey Smithwick.

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While those earning below $84,000 have various forms of assistance, such as vouchers and other federal and state funds for use, the missing middle are often left searching for answers.

“The household is generally at the mercy of our market rates,” Smithwick said. “The greatest barriers we are seeing in the housing market are sales prices that far exceed a homeowner’s lending capabilities and rental rates within the private sector that are well beyond 40-50% of a household’s total monthly income.

“So what can a household really afford?”

Who are the ‘missing middle’?

In terms of housing, the “missing middle” typically refers to units in duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, courtyard apartments, cottage courts, townhomes, medium-sized multiplexes and live/work spaces, according to These all fall in between detached single-family homes and mid-rise apartment buildings, which have proven to be unaffordable to many earning 120-140% AMI.

“If we increase the supply of housing options, technically, in theory – because it’s supply and demand – we would be affecting the price,” Oviedo’s Development Services Manager Teresa Correa said. “If there are a lot of homes for sale, the prices will go down. If there are a lot of apartments to be rented, competition will drive the prices down.”

Seminole County’s median monthly mortgage, including other costs such as taxes, insurance and utilities, is $1,700, while the median monthly rent, including additional costs, is $1,400, according to U.S. Census data from 2021, the newest available. This causes issues for residents of all professions, according to a 2021 study by the University of Florida’s Shimberg Center for Housing Studies.

The Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse study “provides public access to data about housing needs and supply, subsidized rental housing, and household demographics in Florida communities,” according to the website. Included in the data is the maximum affordable rent, broken down by industry and county. People in many common industries in the county are unable to afford, or just able to afford, the fair-market rent for a two-bedroom home of $1,321.

A 2021 wage and rent comparison chart by industry. Image courtesy of the City of Oviedo.

Of the 29 industry categories counted in the data, based on the average hourly wage, individuals in 12 – including accommodation and food service, leisure and hospitality, retail, educational and health services, trade, transportation, and health care and social assistance – would be unable to afford the fair-market two-bedroom rent. Individuals in 10 additional industries, ranging from construction, real estate, manufacturing, public administration and service-providing industries, would be unable to afford the median monthly mortgage in Seminole County.

“Within Seminole County, almost 16,000 low-income households are cost-burdened renters, which means they’re not getting help. They’re trying to figure it out on their own,” Smithwick said. “Based on the current housing market, rental rates are still beyond this missing middle’s ability to pay rent and comfortably live. Those are the folks we really need to help with housing.”

Between 2012 and 2021, the state of Florida added 323,000 units, but those renting for more than $1,000 per month grew by almost 600,000, while those at or below $1,000 fell by nearly 300,000, according to a Shimberg Center tabulation of U.S. Census Bureau data. To put the numbers into perspective, in 2012, 41% of units rented for $1,000 or less, while in 2021, only 26% rented at that rate, according to Shimberg. The average annual pay for Florida employees has increased from $43,000 in 2012 to $60,000 in 2021, according to

“Landlords took advantage of the change in the market, and the same unit that was affordable is just now not. And why?” Smithwick said. “Just because they could.”

Multiple factors affecting housing costs

Increased cost of land, building supplies, labor and rising interest rates all have played a part in the availability of attainable housing. 

Another factor that has led to the increase in housing cost over time is size. The average home size in Orange County in 1950 was less than 1,000 square feet, with the average household size being 3.6 people. In the 70 years since, the average home size has increased to more than 2,500 sq. ft., while the household size decreased to 2.6 people, according to U.S. Census American Community Survey data.

“Every person has as much room as the average house was in 1950,” said City of Orlando Director of Housing and Community Development Oren Henry, said during a March presentation he gave to the Oviedo City Council on affordable housing in Central Florida. “That costs money. Plus, houses tend to have a lot more in them these days, [making them] a lot more expensive.”

Possible solutions

All of these issues have led to big questions being asked, and new ideas to find solutions.

“How do we solve this lopsided housing market and tip it back toward a renter or homeowner/homebuyer’s favor?” Smithwick asked. “The county created the strategic plan with the mindset that different housing types need to be increased.”

The strategic plan was published in 2020 with the intention of “preserving, creating, and diversifying affordable and workforce housing.”

The Florida Legislature recently passed the Live Local Act, which is “designed to increase the availability of affordable housing opportunities for Florida’s workforce, who desire to live within the communities they serve,” according to its website. The act allocates $711 million for housing projects throughout the state, including incentivizing the building of affordable and attainable housing and increasing the Hometown Heroes down payment assistance program to $35,000 for eligible frontline workers. 

“I think [the act] is a good start because my perspective is that until we can encourage for-profit developers to build either homes for sale that are close to the state sales price limit, or more affordable rentals that are based on income levels and not what the fair market is, to me, we’re kind of stuck,” Smithwick said. “Until we can provide and encourage developers to shift their gears a little bit.”

Working with developers to increase more attainable housing supply is a key focus of those looking at the situation. While municipalities cannot place price restrictions on developers, they can offer incentives for providing lower-cost units, and possibly building affordable multi-unit developments rather than just single-family homes. Incentives include removing certain regulatory barriers such as lot setbacks and density bonuses for affordable housing, and the addition of accessory dwelling units (ADUs), Correa said. 

“These are all mechanisms that not only [Oviedo], but other cities are promoting to kind of tackle these gaps that we have in the market,” Correa said. “[A] complication with the ADUs is that the city has its own rules, but most of our neighborhoods have homeowner’s associations, [and] the homeowner’s association may impact [it], may say, ‘no, we will not allow ADUs.’

“They may be more restrictive than the city,” she said.

Another possibility, Smithwick said, is working with companies that own large spaces of land near its offices, such as hospitals, and building workforce rental units for employees. This would help employees save money for a potential future down payment on a home and limit commute lengths, which can be a problem for the 43% of Seminole County residents who leave the county to work, according to the 2018 Regional Affordable Housing Initiative report done between Orange, Seminole and Osceola counties and the City of Orlando.

“It goes back to mobility and transportation and [there] not being enough housing,” Oviedo Councilmember Natalie Teuchert said. “Those are just such big issues.

“I think the general consensus, especially in today’s economy, is that the average person wants to be able to afford where they live and put food on the table,” she said. “And everybody knows we have a problem with that right now.”

About this series: OCN has conducted listening sessions over several months concerning housing to help guide this series. Some articles will focus on specific areas within Greater Oviedo and Winter Springs while others will involve the entire coverage area. 

During OCN’s initial audience listening sessions in 2021, Oviedo High School Principal Trent Daniel told OCN that housing is a big challenge for local teachers. 

“I think the biggest issue in the community is that we have no affordable housing anymore,” Daniel said. “Any teacher who is hired now cannot afford to live in Oviedo and not even in the apartments. They’re unaffordable for them on the salary they make. Funny enough, I know that personally because my daughter is a teacher and she cannot afford to live anywhere in Seminole County.”

In April, reader Katrina Scales told us: “I would also like to see more townhomes or condos for under $325k. Right now, there are very few buying options under that price, aside from manufactured homes in 55+ neighborhoods. Building upward and utilizing unused space could satisfy both of these dreams.”

As we roll out this series, we invite you to engage with us by sending us your questions, input and experiences with local housing. Click here to take a brief survey.

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