Orlando-area Democratic Congressman Darren Soto says the massive influx of Puerto Rican evacuees to Central Florida will have a long-term positive effect on the area’s growth, but there are many short-tern needs to be met.
To date, 120 to 160 thousand Puerto Ricans have moved from the island to the US with many choosing to live in Central Florida. Soto says the growth will eventually turn into more jobs for the area, but right now it’s stressing out budgets: school boards, cities and counties.
Along with Republican Congressman Dennis Ross and Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, Congressman Soto co-signed a letter requesting additional federal funds for HUD housing vouchers, Section 8 assistance in the short-term, and HUD dollars to build more affordable housing in the region.
“In Central Florida, we have a need for higher paying jobs and affordable housing,” Soto tells News 96.5 WDBO in an exclusive interview. “It’s what I hear everyday.”
Soto says a lot of Puerto Ricans are getting jobs already.
“That’s the positive,” he says. “They’re getting jobs at the parks, at the hotels and so many different industries around here. But we need to have long-term housing strategies in the process.”
Soto says many hotels in Central Florida are helping the Hurricane Maria evacuees.
“Particularly the 192 and I-4 corridor, they’ve really stepped up. Some of our higher-end hotels, we really could use more help. We need you.”
But right now he’s focused on the medium and long-range solutions for the families who want to stay.
“A lot of these folks - even though they’ll be working a full-time job or maybe their spouse is - they’re still going to need more apartments...and more affordable, single-family households,” he says. “That will be a crunch if we don’t get our act together. And while a lot of folks are talking about it, we need action.”
Soto says anyone who touts him or herself as “pro economy” is going to want growth.
“Growth is jobs in Central Florida,” he says. “Because that’s what creates new small businesses that grow to new big businesses. It requires more housing, but it’s gotta be done right. We can’t have urban sprawl.”
CLICK HERE to read the letter Soto and his colleagues sent to Chairman Frelinghuysen and Ranking Member Lowey in the House Appropriations Committee. CLICK HERE to read the letter they sent to FEMA Administrator Brock Long. They’re requesting the House and FEMA to fully fund the host-state agreement with Florida. The FEMA/Host-State agreement provides direct reimbursement to the state of Florida for costs associated with evacuation and shelter support for Puerto Rican evacuees.