Disneyland Forward Stiffs Anaheim on Housing!

(Disneyland Forward sketch, and woman sleeping in car.)

Vern here. Duane Roberts published one of his best pieces in the Register March 11, which I’ll re-print here in place of writing my own planned, And What Does Disney Require of Us pt 2: Housing Their Workers.” But I’ll add some of my own thoughts at the end. Here’s Duane!

Disney needs to make a greater commitment to affordable housing in Anaheim.

by Duane Roberts, March 11, 2024

The cat is out of the bag, folks.

The Walt Disney Company is making preparations to construct a massive 1,400 unit affordable housing complex on 80 acres of undeveloped land they own in Orange County, Florida. This project was approved 4-3 by the local planning and zoning commission in February. Soon it will be voted on by elected officials.

Last year, the Orlando Business Journal conservatively estimated it would cost roughly around $350 million to build. Disney itself proudly boasts on websites they control that it will be privately financed and won’t rely on government funds.

Contrast that to the $30 million they propose to give Anaheim for affordable housing in order to win approval of Disneyland Forward, their expansion plan. They then expect the city to leverage it using large amounts of government funds, essentially making the taxpayers subsidize building apartments for their low wage workforce.

The question that Anaheim residents need to ask is this: Why is Disney giving us so little as compared to Florida? Do we not, like them, have a housing crisis in this state? People are living on the streets, out of their cars, and struggling to pay rent. They can’t even afford to buy homes. And commuting long distances from cheaper locales is not an option.

Moreover, another question that should be raised: Why has Disney decided to embark on one of the most ambitious “free market,” private sector solutions to affordable housing ever undertaken in the history of Florida; whereas here in our very own backyard they heavily rely on government funds — taxpayer subsidies — to pay for it?

Nobody should be afraid to hold their feet to fire on this matter. They aren’t going to rent a U-Haul truck, put the Matterhorn on top of it, and relocate to Tulsa, Oklahoma anytime soon. Why? They are stuck here and they know it. They need our workers, infrastructure, and consumer market.

There is no doubt Anaheim has benefited from the cozy relationship it has had with The Walt Disney Company over the years. Both Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks have drawn millions of tourists whose spending has generated tax revenue for the city. More than half of the general fund budget comes from the resort area. But like Florida, Disney needs to make a greater commitment to affordable housing here. Though it is true their operations in that state are larger, it doesn’t change the fact the $30 million they offer us is too little. Furthermore, the 1,400 unit complex they are planning shows they are capable of doing more.

Mayor Ashleigh Aitken and the rest of the city council need to ask Disney for more. The vote this body takes on this matter in April will undoubtedly be one of the most important they ever make. And their ability to negotiate a much better deal may become the defining moment of their political careers.

More affordable housing is a win-win situation for everybody involved. Not only will a bigger investment from Disney benefit their workforce, but it will go a long way in helping Anaheim continue to be a great place to live, work, and play.

Duane Roberts is editor and publisher of the Anaheim Investigator blog. He has been resident of that city for more than fifty years.

Vern adds…

Late last year and early this year, Disneyland Forward consultants requested to meet a few times with some of us who are known as gadflies, hoping to buy our consent or silence, which was both flattering and probably a tiny bit productive. Affordable housing was always one of our top concerns, especially as the new proposal plans to add nearly 14,000 new employees – that’s on top of the well-known fact that many of Disney’s CURRENT employees are already homeless, living in cars, couch-surfing, or living way out of town.

And throughout those meetings, the Disney flacks were adamant that the company would do NOTHING for affordable housing. It wasn’t their problem, it was Anaheim’s problem. They actually claimed they had done enough to provide affordable housing during their last expansion in the 90s, which was pretty brazen of them if you know that they did nothing THEN either – the Jeffrey Lynn neighborhood was improved into Hermosa Village using OUR federal HUD dollars, under the auspices of Disney-funded Mayor Tom Daly. But the Disney flacks promised to carry our concerns “up the food chain.”

So when the company came forward at the last minute with this grudging offer of $30 million, that WAS an improvement from ZERO, and maybe at least partly due to us gadflies’ pestering. But it’s important to remember how measly this amount is. First of all, it’s $15 million at the beginning of the project, and $15 million five years later. That might sound like a lot to most of us, but $15 million is less than Disneyland Resort makes in one day (which is $18 million.) And then that $15 million five years later (like Wimpy’s “I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger TOday”) is guaranteed to be worth a lot less than $15 million now, the world being shaped as it is.

Anaheim’s affordable housing goddess Grace Stepter reckons Disney’s $30 million total on its own, would cover a couple dozen new affordable units; leveraged, as Duane says, to get more public (taxpayer) funds, it could lead to as many as 500. Disney is hiring nearly 14,000 new workers, and many of their current workers are unhoused. Disney proposes to house 3.5% of their new workers, mostly using taxpayer funds?

So, combining how INSUFFICIENT TO THE PROBLEM this $15MM + $15MM is, with how piddling it is compared to what Disney COULD do here and IS doing in Florida, we think a self-respecting council would demand about ten times that. $150 million now, $150 million later, for a total of 5,000 new affordable units. THAT would make a dent in our housing problem, and be respectable enough to make us overlook some of the many other externalities we’ll have to live with, in proximity to the DOUBLE-HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH.

This needs to happen. Affordable housing has been a crisis in this pay-to-play town for way too many decades, and now we are losing state education funding, schools and teachers because so many families have had to move out. All because developers get to do whatever they want here, and Disney does only the bare minimum they’re forced to. Stand up for Anaheim, Council!

“Everyone likes Disneyland, but some of us love Anaheim more.”

About Duane Roberts