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Soaring rental prices are yet another obstacle for childcare facilities

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Rents and housing prices are skyrocketing across the country, and paying for a place to live and work is becoming just one more seemingly insurmountable challenge for child care providers. From member station KPBS in San Diego, reporter Claire Trageser explains.

CLAIRE TRAGESER, BYLINE: A dozen young children sit in a circle on the sun-speckled lawn of Liberty Winn's home child care.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) We are Oasis, mighty, mighty Oasis.

TRAGESER: After singing their school song, she dismisses them one by one to leave the circle, visit the potty and then pick out their snacks.

LIBERTY WINN: OK, how about zzz (ph)...

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Zaden.

WINN: Zaden.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Z-A-D-E-N.

TRAGESER: The idyllic scene belies the more than two years of turmoil Winn faced during COVID. She was forced to close when the pandemic first hit and took two months to reopen.

WINN: And then within two weeks, we got the eviction.

TRAGESER: She frantically searched for a new place where she could both live and have her child care business. She ultimately found a home just north of San Diego. She had to take out a federal emergency disaster relief loan and spend $20,000 to put up a fence to protect children from a nearby lake.

WINN: I had to put a lot of the loan money into this place because it's on a lake. It's lovely, it's gorgeous, but it was a huge risk.

TRAGESER: Her lease will be up next month, and Winn just received more bad news. Her landlord is turning the property into a luxury Airbnb. So Winn is out of business again - this time, permanently.

WINN: So our last day is August 26. Oasis of San Diego will be ending.

TRAGESER: By some estimates, two-thirds of child care providers across the country rent instead of own their place of business. This creates a crisis on top of a crisis. One in 10 child care businesses closed during COVID, and now many are struggling to reopen due to staggering rental costs.

LAURA KOHN: It puts the providers in a terribly vulnerable position.

TRAGESER: Laura Kohn is an early education expert.

KOHN: The child care provider is totally dependent on that rental situation for their livelihood and that moving the business would be incredibly disruptive to a lot of parents and families.

TRAGESER: Without government funding to help providers, child care availability will continue to decline, says Kim McDougal, who runs child care for the San Diego County YMCA.

KIM MCDOUGAL: The funding mechanism for child care is truly broken, and the way we have built our economic model is truly broken. And that's something that we really need to address going forward if we're going to solve the child care crisis. Because parents can't pay more. Providers can't charge less, and it's never going to match up without public subsidy to close the gap.

TRAGESER: A subsidy certainly would have helped Winn, who's being replaced by the luxury Airbnb. She will have to pack up or sell everything, from the art supplies and tiny tables and chairs to the aquariums holding snakes and turtles. And all of the money she put into the property will be lost.

WINN: I was so grateful to have found my calling. But, I mean, if I really think about it, there's just - I'm just quite vulnerable.

TRAGESER: The kids at her school and their parents will have to find new care when Winn moves. For NPR News, I'm Claire Trageser in San Diego. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Claire Trageser