>>This week on NewsNight, local governments in Florida could face new restrictions in how they can deal with housing issues, including a bill awaiting approval that would preempt local protections for renters.
Plus, Governor DeSantis signs a new law barring state funding for diversity, equity and inclusion programs at public universities and colleges and requiring boards of trustees to approve the hiring of all faculty.
NewsNight starts now.
[MUSIC] Hello, I'm Steve Mort, and welcome to NewsNight, where we take an in-depth look at the top stories and issues in central Florida and how they affect all of us.
Well, local governments in Florida could soon be facing new restrictions and how they can deal with housing issues.
A couple of bills that are currently awaiting approval take aim at the rental market, which has seen prices skyrocket amid the affordability crunch.
One allows landlords to offer tenants the option of paying monthly nonrefundable fees instead of a security deposit paid upfront.
The other would repeal any local government regulations that deal with the tenant landlord relationship.
Supporters say the bills passed by the legislature in the session just ended, will create a more transparent regulatory environment statewide and make rental units more accessible for those who can't afford steep security deposits.
But opponents counter that they'll open the door for exploitation by landlords and worsen the existing affordable housing crisis.
Well, my colleague Krystel Knowles has been following the housing issue in central Florida this year and has been tracking the latest on the affordability issue.
Thanks for being here, Krystel.
There's some new data out, right, which really illustrates the extent of the affordability crisis in our central Florida community.
The situation is so bad that we're hearing the term working homeless in central Florida.
What that means is that people have to have multiple jobs to make ends meet.
As Steve mentioned, the Florida legislature passed a bill that would preempt local rules such as tenants Bill of rights ordinances, and it passed another bill called the Live Local Act, which bans local governments from imposing rent controlled.
Usually, rents go up anywhere between 3 to 5% every time a lease is renewed.
But over the last two years, they've seen an increase by more than 18%, and that has meant people who already need rental assistance are falling even further behind.
And that brings us to the new data.
Online Real Estate Marketplace Zillow finds 19 million households meet the criteria for a voucher in 2021.
However, there were only 2 million vouchers available.
With the Orlando area facing one of the most severe gaps between demand and availability.
Heres, Zillow senior economists Orphe Divoungy >>Rents grew so fast during the pandemic that so many families, you know, fell, fell behind.
And today, now we have nearly ten times as many households in need of vouchers than they are actual vouchers available.
And so that has become that has become a huge problem across the country, but particularly in Florida and many Florida markets where rents have increased so much, so much more than in other parts of the country.
>>Krystel, as we've mentioned on the program before, the legislature passed the live local act you just talked about that that kind of earmarks about $700 million for the affordable housing crisis, including new funding for affordable housing development, corporate tax breaks, trying to get people into new homes.
But from experts you talk to, what do they see as the likelihood of success?
>>The simple answer is that nobody has any answers right now because the cost of building materials is so high.
Now you add on inflation and the economic relation US currently has with China.
Things have gotten quite complicated.
During the pandemic, factories closed, reducing the availability of materials and pushing up their cost.
China is one of the leading exporters of timber and plastic insulation materials, steel frames, roofing and a lot of other building materials.
According to the National Association of Home Builders.
Construction remains at a slower pace than pre-pandemic.
>>Well, Krystel, thank you so much for your reporting.
Really appreciate you being here.
Before we turn to our panel.
Let's hear again from Zillow's Orphe Divoungy who says he believes local government should address issues like zoning to try to stimulate affordable housing developments.
>>The real, more sustainable long term solution is to build more affordable housing across the country.
You know, to reform zoning laws so that builders can be unlocked and that we can see more building across the country.
You know, if zoning only allows for single family housing, we're basically leaving a lot of people out.
And so zoning reform, finding ways to unlock builders in order to get more housing available to folks is the more sustainable long term solution to this problem.
>>Orphe Divoungy there, well, let's bring in our panel now to break it all down.
Joining us in the studio this week, independent investigative journalist Jason Garcia writes the Substack “Seeking Rent.
” Thanks for being here, Jason.
Appreciate your time.
Morning Edition host and economics reporter over at 90.7 WMFE, Talia Blake.
Thanks for coming in, Talia.
And editor of the Winter Park Voice, Beth Kassab, coming back to the program.
Thanks so much for coming in, Beth, really appreciate it.
Let me start with you on this one, Talia.
You cover economics and we'll start with you on the big picture.
When it comes to rents.
From your reporting, does that seem to be any indication which direction rents are currently going at the moment?
>>Well, rent is still high.
We're still seeing some increases.
We are seeing not as dramatic or drastic increases that we saw during the pandemic.
But the big picture is that it's still high.
We're still above the national average.
People are still struggling to afford their housing, to rent their apartment, to rent their condo.
And that's really the big picture.
It's still increasing, still going in that direction.
But we're kind of seeing a little bit of plateauing, but not what renters really need to feel that relief.
>>Maybe things cooling a little bit.
>>Just a tad.
>>Just a tad.
Jason, let's talk about these bills that that tackle the rental market.
You've written about one of them, HB 1417 I think it is, which which preempts local ordinances on those tenant landlord relationships that we just talked about there.
What's the thinking behind it?
Who supports it?
>>Yeah, this is this is one of the most far reaching bills of of this past session.
And just sort of to set the table a bit.
Florida is one of the most pro landlord and anti tenant states in the nation.
Just a couple of years ago, the Sentinel wrote this wonderful series called Locked Out, looking at just sort of how lopsided Florida law is in favor of landlords.
And so the response has been in local communities around the state.
Miami, St. Pete, here in Orlando, there have been local ordinances push trying to trying to sort of give a little bit of balance to tenants in this.
It is like you're talking about some of the most basic protections imaginable, like getting just advance notice before you raise the rent more than 5% or something like that.
But this legislation will wipe out all of those local laws.
It is an utter and total preemption, meaning governments and local governments, cities and counties cannot do anything to regulate the landlord tenant relationship.
And this comes directly from the landlord lobby, specifically the Florida Apartment Association, which represents big apartment companies like Camden.
>>Yeah, I mean, they say, of course, that it'll create a sort of a level playing field across the state.
Beth, I mean, Orange County has a tenant bill of rights, I think, as do many other jurisdictions in the states, Jason said.
I mean, what kind of differences might tenants see if this becomes law?
>>Well, like Jason said, I mean, these are just some of the most basic protections, like notice about a rent increase, the advanced warning and writing.
And I think what's important to really emphasize here is that, yes, you're seeing the landlord groups argue for a level playing field, but I think a lot of renters across Florida would say, well, wait a second, there's actually really individual circumstances that come into play in every town, every city that are different.
And that's where we've seen local governments try to take some action and individualize the situation to where people really live.
And the legislature is taking that ability away.
So there's some like 40 something local ordinances that will absolutely be wiped out, and those don't even go all that far.
They're really basic in nature when it comes to just letting tenants know what's going on and what they can expect to plan their finances.
And let me just sort of throw in there to just to give you an idea of just how lopsided Florida is in favor and just how much influence landlords, specifically large apartment developers, have in Tallahassee.
There is a push just a couple of years ago, the military you know, everybody loves the military right.
To go over to support members of the military was having trouble for members of military finding apartments in South Florida.
The rent was so high and security deposits in particular were just too much.
So there was legislation to cap security deposits solely for members of the military.
And the legislature refused to pass that law because the Florida Apartment Association opposed it.
>>And this goes to kind of, I guess, what Beth was talking about, that every different region of the state has its own affordability situation.
>>Yeah, Florida is a really big state.
And we're seeing more and more preemption.
And so that takes away the ability to govern a state of 20 million people in a very personalized way.
Now, every the same rule is applying to everyone, and that is going to cause a lot of issues long term.
>>What about this fees issue allowing tenants to to to elect to pay monthly fees instead of a security deposit?
You know, what are the two sides on that issue saying?
>>Certainly depends on who you talk to.
>>The group that pushed this rule, which is asking for almost like monthly installments instead of an upfront security deposit, say this is about fairness.
It really increases accessibility to apartments because some families may not be able to come up with this large upfront kind of down payment, if you will, as a security deposit on top of the first month's rent.
However, there's a really important distinction between the way the fees work and the way the upfront security deposit works.
Typically with a security deposit at the end of your lease or perhaps at the end of the year, you would get that back if you upheld uphold your end of the bargain.
In this case, the fees simply go away.
And a lot of critics have called these predatory-- >>Junk fees.
>>Junk fees that are absolutely at the disadvantage of the renter.
>>And one thing to note about that, too, so this a variation of this law was passed in Texas a couple of years ago, right?
Texas, we don't sort of think of that state as a particularly bleeding heart progressive state, but the legislature there wouldn't pass it without a bunch of consumer protections.
And the Florida legislature refused to include almost all of those protections that Texas insisted on in this bill.
Let me just go back to the Live Local Act which we've talked about on this this program before.
Talia, you've done some reporting on what economists think the outcome of the Live Local Act might be in its likelihood of success.
This offers incentives right to to developers, overturns local rent controls.
What's the feeling that you get about what the effectiveness of it is likely to be?
>>Yeah, they're concerned.
There's a lot of concern, mainly because let me back up and say they say it's a step in the right direction, but obviously more still needs to be done.
And there are some concerns that in the short term there's not really immediate relief in the Live Local Act for renters.
It's got a lot to do with building and developing-- >>Incentivzing developers, right?
>>And incentivizing developers, right.
So people who are dealing with a housing affordability today who need money today, it doesn't really give them any relief.
And then in the long term, a lot of the funding for the Live Local Act is coming through the housing trust fund that's already existed.
So there's a little bit of a worry about measuring that impact because it's not kind of differentiated, okay, this is the amount of money through the clock.
This is where it's going to go.
So there's a little bit of confusion there.
>>Yeah, there's a lot of confusion around it in that housing market for sure.
But just a reminder, we are recording the show on Thursday morning so things can change by airtime.
In the meantime, you can find links to the bills discussed here to read for yourself.
It's on our website wucf.org/newsnight.
Next tonight the governor signed into law one of his key priorities this week, legislation that would block state funding for diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives at state colleges and universities.
It also puts faculty hiring in the hands of boards of trustees that include members appointed by the governor.
SB 266 also requires faculty committees appointed by the State Education Board and the Board of Governors to review general education core courses at state higher education institutions.
That could lead to the removal of some courses.
It's all part of the Governor's effort to stamp out what he calls woke indoctrination on campuses.
>>This bill is saying is, you know, some of these niche subjects like critical race theory, other types of DEI infused courses and majors.
Florida's getting out of that game if you want to do things like gender ideology.
Go to Berkeley, go to some of these other places.
And there's nothing if that's what you want to do, there's there's nothing wrong with that, per se.
But for us, with our tax dollars, we want to focus on the classical mission of what a university is supposed to be.
>>Well, those are the governor's thoughts on what a university is supposed to be.
Now let's hear a different perspective.
Nicole Morse is government relations chair for the United Faculty of Florida and director of the Center for Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Florida Atlantic University.
>>It is government sponsored indoctrination.
It censors the ideas that our students can encounter.
It limits the ideas and the concepts that our professors can teach.
And it will impact the climate on the campuses in Florida in ways that will do damage to what has been one of the best university systems in the country.
We need to be working at the cutting edge of research and ideas rather than restricting our students to just taking in or imbibing what has been already thought, what has been already explored.
If we want to be and remain one of the top institutions, one of the top systems in the U.S., Florida's schools have to be engaging with a wide range of ideas and concepts that are being debated, discussed and explored in contemporary society.
>>Well, you can find my full interview with Nicole Morse on our website.
wucf.org/newsnight along the bottom of your screen.
Beth, let me come to you on this one first.
The governor and his supporters have long pushed for legislation like this, and this one's quite expansive.
This is a really far reaching piece of legislation.
I think it's important to point out that when it comes to the public university system, that the governor is very much arguing for a one size fits all scenario.
All students should have access to the same curriculum.
There should be really no variation.
Everything has to be approved by the state.
But when it comes to K through 12 students, he argues for a very different system, which is parental choice.
And all of these unique learning opportunities that the governor has argued comes with the state's voucher program, which sends hundreds of thousands of children to private religious schools.
And so this is the is a direct counter argument to that and could very much alter what we see at the state's public universities.
>>Interesting distinction here.
I mean, Jason, that he signed this at the New College of Florida in Sarasota.
What's the significance of him signing it there at that school?
>>Well, that's sort of symbolic of what we've seen recently.
It's just like a sort of a really aggressive sort of partizan takeover of state colleges, you know, And you can probably take it back to starting with when the University of Florida hired Ben Sasse, the Republican U.S. senator, as its president without without publicly considering any other applicants.
And then you go to New College where, among other folks, DeSantis installed the the marketer behind the critical race theory panic on the board of trustees of the school.
And then they turned around and hired a former state House speaker as as the school's president and gave him a nearly $1 million compensation package to do it.
And doing this event at New College, which has become sort of the poster child for this sort of partizan takeover of higher education in Florida is is very deliberate.
>>Because it doesn't have to be as much transparency in the presidential hiring process now.
And that was something that the legislature got through-- >>Something the governor's office pushed to do, and it went through the legislature.
But the governor's office wanted that to pass.
>>Talia at the same bill signing ceremony, the governor put his signature on legislation that tackles the diversity of speakers at universities and colleges, which I found interesting.
This is sort of part of his long stated goal of viewpoint diversity.
How will this aim to achieve that?
>>So basically what that's going to do is it's going to create an office through the university system, and that office will create satellite offices at every campus and and state university across Florida.
And then what those offices are going to do are basically going to be monitoring and reviewing who's coming to campus to speak.
Are you representing multiple viewpoints?
Are you bringing in different people or are you bringing in the same people?
So they're going to be-- >>From the same viewpoint.
>>From the same viewpoint.
They want different aspects.
Now, there have been some some people who are against this office being brought up have said like, okay, so are you going to allow people who are like Nazi ideology or are they going to be able to come and speak to everyone?
So, you know, there's some concern there, but basically they're going to be monitoring who gets to come to these state universities and speak to the students.
>>Yeah, you know, there's a real irony on that bill, too, because because, you know, who didn't think there was a problem with intellectual diversity at university just a couple of years ago?
Ron DeSantis Yeah, right before COVID, he was asked about there was a controversy about a white nationalist speaking.
>>He did say there wasn't a problem.
>>And governor Governor DeSantis, when he was asked about this, said, I don't think that's an issue in Florida.
And now it's certainly the issue in Florida.
>>Yeah, I mean, he's certainly stated that he's he's concerned about what his supporters would call a monoculture on university campuses.
Beth, teachers unions, including the UFF, that we just heard from.
They're already suing over new restrictions on public sector unions out of this session, separate from the restrictions on teachers unions that were put in place by 266.
Why is the union complaint?
>>So the complaints really boil down to a question of fairness and how these rules apply to teachers versus unions that tend to represent law enforcement officials.
>>And so what they're saying is the law enforcement unions are exempt from these new restrictions, which makes it harder to organize and to run a union.
And they are questioning the constitutionality of that in the lawsuit.
>>About being treated differently.
>>This is worth emphasizing, too, because this was this was the biggest lie of the Florida legislative session, because the supporters of this bill, as they were pushing it through, kept claiming they were trying to help workers in these years.
If we're going to bring transparency and we're going to make sure ensure accountability for how their union dues are spent.
If that was true, why would you not want to provide that same accountability and transparency to firefighters and police officers and prison guards?
It had nothing to do.
>>Look at what the bill actually does, which is makes it harder to collect dues.
>>Take them out of the paycheck so people have to pay separately, which is another barrier to, you know, running the union in a in a you know, efficient way.
For for those who want to have it.
So it's hard to argue that it's really about workers.
It seems to really go to the heart of the logistical operations.
>>Of the organization.
>>But, I mean, if you think about it, it also kind of redefines what a union is in a sense, because it's like, okay, if you don't have this amount, then you're really a bargaining agent.
You're not really a union.
Supporters, of course, as you say, say it's it's about the workers and protecting their interests.
The unions say this is good old traditional union busting.
>>But again, if it was about protecting the workers, why aren't we also protecting police officers and firefighters?
It just isn't it doesn't hold up to even basic scrutiny.
>>Yeah, and I guess that's the point that the opponents are making.
Well, there were also a lot of changes, as Beth alluded to, to K through 12 education passed in the most recent legislative session as well.
If you have views on that or anything else we've been talking about here on the program, you can join the conversation.
We're at WUCFTV on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Finally tonight, we wanted to touch on immigration again.
We're going to do a much deeper dive into some of the impacts of recent changes to the law in Florida later this summer.
But we wanted to mention a couple of key developments over the last week with the end of Title 42 restrictions, which allowed the U.S. to expedite the return of migrants at the US-Mexico border during the pandemic.
The Biden administration has instead instituted several other measures to try to crack down on illegal crossings.
Many Republicans have blasted the moves, including Governor DeSantis, who this week said Florida would deploy a range of personnel and assets to the border in Texas.
And Jason, I wanted to to talk about this because it seems like an important story.
This isn't the first time that Florida has done this, but this is a bigger deployment, I think, than previously.
>>Yeah, that's right.
And what you're seeing here is Governor DeSantis, as he gets ready to launch a campaign for president, which it sounds like could come as early as next week at this point, you know, he's looking for any opportunity he can to make news outside of Florida.
And so these sorts of things, these sorts of things are ways you do that, right, that the governor of Florida sending people to Texas to deal with immigration stuff is the sort of thing that's going to attract national media attention.
And that's entirely what that's about.
You know, one of the things he pushed really hard for this year was a massive expansion of the Florida State Guard, which is basically sort of a governor controlled militia separate from the Florida National Guard, which is what we totally we typically think about.
Some of that legislation gives him more freedom to deploy the Florida State Guard to other states.
So I expect we'll see more of this, particularly as he tries to to to stay relevant in the Republican primary for president.
>>I mean, the governor has said that immigration is not being handled adequately by the federal government and that this is an issue that fact affects Florida as a state and therefore it's in Florida's interest to deal with it.
Beth, recently, Florida, of course, passed immigration reforms.
We've talked about it here on NewsNight before places new restrictions and penalties on undocumented immigrants and people who transport and employ them.
In short, Mexico's president has called it immoral.
He called it lots of other things.
Could Florida see some sort of economic blowback?
>>I think that's a really interesting question.
You know, those of us who have been in Florida for for a long time have seen a lot of variations of these attempted crackdowns on immigration, on workers who are undocumented.
And typically, it's a lot of buzz and then not a lot of enforcement or even any enforcement.
And so I have to wonder if this is going to be any different.
I'm really I just have so many questions about whether those changes will actually come about.
>>It actually makes a difference.
I mean Talia, Pew finds about five and a half percent, I think it was of Florida's workforce is undocumented.
From a pure economic standpoint.
Are there certain industries here in our states that are particularly worried about this?
>>Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Construction, hospitality and agriculture.
As a top, top industry that's worried about this.
Those are industries that see a lot of undocumented workers working, maybe industries that some economists would say that maybe your other Floridians may not want to do work in the fields or what not.
But also bringing it back to Beth's point.
You know, there's been a lot of videos you've seen going viral recently of people protesting.
Florida Truckers are saying, you know, we don't want to bring trucks down to Florida.
People are saying don't travel to the state.
And those in and of itself can have an economic impact, not like on us as consumers as well.
If those trucks aren't coming in, bringing the supplies that we need, that's a problem.
If the workers aren't there, if there aren't enough hands on the State farm picking the oranges, then those prices of the oranges at the grocery store are going to go up.
So from an economic standpoint, this could have a big trickle down effect.
>>Yeah, and some say there seems to be mixed reports at the moment.
Some industry leaders saying we're not seeing these kinds of drop off in workers that are being reported.
So we actually just recently at WMFE talked to a building association, I believe, in central Florida, and they were saying that, you know, we're watching this very closely.
We're talking to our members in our association.
We're not seeing as many people not showing up to the worksites, maybe a few people here and there.
But for the most part, it's still business as usual.
But you still can't deny some of the viral videos you've seen of construction workers out of, say, an apartment building.
One day it's 100 people, the next day it's like 20 people.
So you can't deny that.
>>Well, so much we could talk about.
I wish we had had time, but it's been a very, very busy legislative session.
So we're a we're all out of time, as usual.
My thanks this week to independent journalist Jason Garcia, Talia Blake from 90.7 WMFE News and Beth Kassab from the Winter Park Voice.
Thank you all so much for being here this week.
Really appreciate your time.
We'll see you next Friday night at 8:30 here on WUCF from all of us here at NewsNight, take care and have a great week.