Jan 29, 2024 - News

Miami-Dade schools consider workforce housing plan

Illustration of an apple shaped like a house.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is moving forward with a plan that could turn some schools into workforce housing.

  • The School Board during this month approved a measure that would look at potential redevelopment of "underutilized areas" of two schools: Hialeah Senior High School and James H. Bright/JW Johnson Elementary.

Why it matters: The proposal comes as the district is struggling to attract teachers and faces a looming financial cliff, with federal stimulus funds distributed during the pandemic running out this year.

Details: Miami-Dade schools has been looking at how it can leverage its assets to "help the community and help recruit and retain teachers and other district staff," Raul Perez, chief facilities design and construction officer, tells Axios.

  • The school district is the largest landowner in the county, he says, and from a facilities perspective, staff must think "outside of the box" in order to maintain its capital projects.
  • Perez pointed to legislative changes in recent years that have limited state funds for public schools or shifted money to charter schools, including a law requiring districts to share a portion of state-allocated funds for capital improvements with charter schools.
  • If an underutilized school or property can be converted into a site that features both a residential component and an education component, the district could secure a new source of revenue, Perez says.

Yes, but: Some argue the district's resources should be focused on education.

  • "I think it's admirable [for districts] to look elsewhere for revenue, but I think it's problematic that districts are forced to do so," says Damaris Allen, executive director of Families for Strong Public Schools. "You want to keep the most important thing the most important thing."
  • Others say the district should prioritize increasing enrollment at the schools that have underutilized space or consider other possible needs, such as an early childhood learning center, before housing.
  • Perez acknowledged that not all areas within the district would fit — or need — this kind of redevelopment, but says enrollment and affordability aren't isolated from each other. The district also has a bureau addressing enrollment, he says.

Of note: A bill moving through Tallahassee could derail the district's plans.

  • HB 109, which changes how public schools are converted into charter schools, gives charters first dibs on public school "surplus" property if a district sees a decline of 1% or more in student enrollment for at least two consecutive years.
  • "We're trying to leverage our assets and unlock our value, and now this is one more step of not letting us innovate in that type of way," Perez tells Axios. "It would put a lot of the current initiatives related to workforce housing and schools we're looking at in jeopardy."

What's next: If talks with the city of Hialeah about redeveloping the two schools goes well, an updated proposal will be presented to the Miami-Dade County School Board.

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