Baby steps towards affordable child care

A number of Council members, notably Delia Garza, Kathie Tovo and Natasha Harper-Madison, have been pushing for the city to do more to increase access to affordable child care.

Garza and Tovo have been pressuring ACC to include a child care site on their Highland Mall campus to relieve a major logistical and financial burden for students with children. Harper-Madison has said that she wants the city to work with developers to get child care included in more multi-family developments. She has also talked about getting a child care facility set up at City Hall to make it easier on citizens with young children to engage in the political process.

A few months ago, Council approved a resolution directing staff to examine ways that the city could reduce the regulatory burden on child care providers, including by allowing child care facilities in more zoning categories and by reducing fees on providers.

This issue came up briefly during the CodeNEXT debate at Planning Commission back in May:

Another Kazi amendment proposed allowing day care centers with fewer than 20 children in all residential zones. Many of the commissioners framed it as a useful mechanism to address a key affordability pain point for Austin low- and middle-income families by allowing more day cares throughout the city, while others said that such a use should not simply be granted by right without consideration of the specific setting, including the availability of parking.

“I live down the street from a day care with 117 children,” said Thompson. “It has no parking. It causes no problem at all.”

Anderson ridiculed the opposition: “If kids aren’t compatible with our neighborhoods, I don’t know what is.”

(Commissioner Karen) McGraw disagreed. “I think a day care with 19 kids is pretty intensive,” she said, adding that she has seen other day cares that cease operations and later become illegal multifamily residences.

The day care measure fell short by one vote. Hart, Thompson, Kazi, Anderson, Schissler and Kenny voted in favor.

Presumably, any zoning changes aimed at accommodating child care centers will be included as part of the code overhaul expected from City Manager Spencer Cronk next month.

In the meantime, staff has proposed exempting certain child care centers from having to pay the $450 annual food enterprise fee that they now must pay if they serve food. The provision only relates to Austin’s 35 “high-quality” centers –– those that have achieved a 4-star rating from Texas Rising Star.

That item is on City Council’s agenda next week. I assume it will be approved unanimously.

For a bit of context, $450 is less than half of what you’d expect to pay a month to put a kid in one of the cheaper daycare centers in the city. Baby steps…

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