JPMorgan Chase Lends $29M on First-of-Its-Kind Orlando Affordable Housing Project

Catchlight Crossings will deliver 1,000 units of affordable and workforce housing on land donated by Universal.

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In a tough market environment where positive news is rarer than hen’s teeth,  JPMorgan Chase has some good news to report. The bank just closed $29.1 million in construction financing for an affordable housing project in Orlando, Fla., that will not only make a considerable dent in the area’s low-income housing deficit, but hopefully also serve as a template for others. 

The loan was provided for Catchlight Crossing, a 1,000-unit development in Orlando being developed by Wendover Housing Partners. The project — which broke ground earlier this month — is the first of its kind in many ways, including the fact its land was donated by an affiliate of Universal Destinations & Experiences

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“Catchlight Crossings is more than just a roof over someone’s head,” Jonathan Wolf, founder and CEO of Wendover Housing Partners, said in a statement. “When it comes to our residents, we want to enhance their quality of life through safe, secure housing, free child care, easy transportation access and more. Together with Universal we are redefining what affordable housing can and should be, and creating a model that can be replicated to help address the affordable housing crisis on a national level.”   

Housing for Tomorrow, Universal’s not-for-profit, donated the 20-acre parcel. It sits close to the Orange County Convention Center on International Drive, the city’s buzzing tourist hub. 

When completed, Catchlight Crossings will include a tuition-free Bezos Academy and educational opportunities offered through the University of Central Florida. Property amenities will include community event space, pools, a fitness center, a game room, bike and walking paths and 4 acres of open green space. Additionally, the community will include on-site medical offices and 16,000 square feet of retail space.  

Wendover’s partnership with Universal began when the developer — an existing client of JPMorgan’s — responded to a Request for Applications (RFA) put out by a joint venture between the local authorities and Universal to develop the site. 

“Someone at Universal had a phenomenal idea,” Tammy Haylock-Moore, managing director, Chase Community Development Banking, said. “They said, ‘We have entertainment and tourist attractions here, but what about someplace for the folks who work there to live?’ and then someone else said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, we’ve got 20 acres sitting here — why not build affordable workforce housing for our folks?’ ”  

A multitude of developers from all over the country responded to the RFA, with Wendover eventually emerging victorious. 

What made us support Wendover is its expertise in affordable housing, and the fact that [the site] is literally in the company’s backyard,” Haylock-Moore said. “It was something that I could picture them fitting right into.”

As such, JPMorgan gave Wendover a letter of support, and Haylock-Moore also made a phone call to U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, who also participated in the letter. 

In addition to being a good fit for JPMorgan Chase’s community banking group — which is committed to increasing its affordable lending  to both build and preserve projects — Catchlight Crossings spoke to Haylock-Moore on a personal level. Originally from Honduras, she grew up in an environment where there remains a significant need for affordable housing, and the surrounding community that comes with it. 

“Everything just came into place here,” she said. “It was a perfect project for me personally, as well as the bank.”  

This initial round of funding, which addresses on-site clearing, and infrastructure improvements, includes predevelopment loans from JPMorgan and community development financial institution Florida Community Loan Fund (a community development financial institution), and equity from Wendover as well as Silver Peak

Despite Universal’s history in entertainment and hospitality, the affordable housing project is a first for the company. As such,  the uniqueness of the project meant that plenty of challenges popped up along the way, Haylock-Moore said, and it was 24 months in the making. 

There’s so much investment in this project, and personal sweat that’s going into it,” Haylock-Moore said. “Everyone is looking towards serving families in need.”

As an additional design and execution challenge — yet welcomed addition — the community will be entirely pedestrianized, with no driving allowed. Instead, a parking garage will be constructed for residents.  It won’t just be Universal employees that qualify for the units, but rather any resident who qualifies within the community from an income standpoint.

“This is just the beginning,” Haylock-Moore said. “There are around 40,000 families that are in need just within a five-mile radius. One thousand units is going to help, but the plan here is to continue onward.”  

Orlando rendering 1 JPMorgan Chase Lends $29M on First of Its Kind Orlando Affordable Housing Project
A rendering of Catchlight Crossings. Terry Cummins

Seventy-five percent of Catchlight Crossings’ units will be designated as affordable, targeted toward residents  earning 60 percent or less of the area median income (AMI). With Low-Income Housing Tax Credits a component in the financing, rents for those units will be decided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The remaining units will be designated as workforce housing units, targeting anyone earning between 61 percent of the AMI all the way up to 120 percent of AMI, Haylock-Moore said. 

With a pedestrian-focused layout, the community will include a transportation center with buses, ride sharing and employer shuttles, facilitating access to employers in the area. Catchlight Crossings will also sit close to the Sunshine Corridor, a proposed railway corridor connecting SunRail to Orlando International Airport as well as the Orange County Convention Center, and serving more than 125,000 workers.  

A hot spot for migration for some time, Florida is now attracting more new residents than any other state in the U.S., according to information from JPMorgan. As housing costs rise, affordable housing supply is more critical than ever. 

Although there’s much more to address in the broader realm of Florida’s affordable housing deficit, when Catchlight opens it will enhance its future residents’ quality of life through safe, secure housing, free child care, easy transportation access and more, Haylock-Moore said. 

And, it’s already setting a good example. Last year, Disney announced it was donating 80 acres for affordable housing development, and selected the Michaels Organization as its developer. Its new development will include 1,300 units and offer Central Florida residents “affordable and attainable home choices,” according to a release by the organization. 

Cathy Cunningham can be reached at ccunningham@commercialobserver.com