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Education and housing: Where will 2022's hot button issues go in the new year?

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Sydney Walsh / Miami Herald
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A woman is escorted out by police at the Miami-Dade County School Board meeting on July 20, 2022.

Housing and education were two of the most impactful, dynamic and contentious topics in the South Florida landscape in 2022.

The affordability crisis, along with consequences from the Surfside disaster, hit some of our most vulnerable residents; meanwhile education policies and school boards were never far from the headlines — oftentimes for censorship and controversy.

WLRN News' reporters Daniel Rivero and Kate Payne followed the beats closely. On the most recent episode of the South Florida Roundup, they talked about the turbulent year that was and how they see these topics developing in 2023.

'Parental rights' and state meddling

We saw a wave of so-called 'parental rights' advocates stepping forward, emboldened by Governor DeSantis’ rhetoric and policies. He not only backed candidates in school board elections — races that are officially non-partisan — but actually removed members and appointed new ones.

Boards were shaken up, with Broward nearly losing its current superintendent. In Miami-Dade County, Monica Colucci won her school board race. Alongside her, Roberto Alonso and Daniel Espino were sworn onto Dade’s school board. The three members are seen as allies of the governor.

The Parental Rights in Education Act set the backdrop for sweeping changes throughout the state. The measure is also known as the 'Don’t Say Gay' bill by critics. This law bans classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten to third grade, and other grades if it isn’t considered age appropriate.

WLRN education reporter Kate Payne said we’ve seen this bill already impact schools in South Florida.

“For many parent activists, it’s emboldened them to really use this term ‘age-appropriate’ as a weapon to target policies and curriculum they don’t agree with,” she said.

Payne said many of these activists have been trying to limit discussion of LBGTQ issues in the classroom, ban books and restrict sex-ed curriculum in Miami-Dade County.

She also thinks we can expect to see the state further expanding its influence in schools in the new year.

“DeSantis has made it clear that he is not shy about removing local elected officials from office … I do think that’s something that is hanging over board members as they’re trying to navigate complying with these new state laws,” Payne said.

Housing and demolitions in Miami post-Surfside

In 2021, the Champlain Towers South collapsed in Surfside, killing 98 residents. The families of the victims and first responders have been dealing with the shock and trauma from the disaster since.

Legislation was passed locally and statewide to ensure condos are routinely inspected and maintained. As part of this, the City of Miami has also increasingly targeted buildings for demolition, putting affordable housing in the crosshairs.

In March, officials quietly changed city policy, stating that if a building is declared unsafe, and a deadline for maintenance or revisions of the property is missed, the city can move to demolish the property.

WLRN’s investigative reporter and South Florida Roundup co-host Danny Rivero said it doesn’t matter why the building was declared unsafe. Whether it’s as small as a broken window, the city will move to demolish the property if it isn’t up to code or maintenance has been done without a permit.

“A lot of people are saying this is a massive overreaction on the City of Miami’s part,” he said.

The city has a range of buildings slated for demolition, and Rivero said according to the slew of lawsuits levied against the city, many of these buildings are older properties 50 to 100 years old. These properties tend to be cheaper and are naturally more affordable.

Miami-Dade County currently faces an affordable housing crisis. Rivero said if the city moves on with the plans to demolish these buildings in the coming year, it could exacerbate the current crisis.

“There’s Section 8 properties that all the tenants get their rent subsidized by the federal government,” he said. “Some of those properties are being ordered demolished, and now those property owners are fighting the city.”

For the next year, Rivero will be following this story closely. He said people can be on waitlists for Section 8 housing for years, and those people will be homeless if the city demolishes these properties.

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Natu Tweh is producer of The Florida Roundup and The South Florida Roundup at WLRN.