Increasing access to child care is a challenge, especially in underserved areas. When the opportunity presents itself to join advocates and stakeholders who understand housing and economic development, it is only fitting that early childhood advocates “partner up” and look outside our traditional lanes to new avenues and solutions. Such an opportunity has presented itself with the Innovation Challenge recently announced by Fannie Mae.
As part of their Sustainable Communities Innovation Challenge, Fannie Mae is seeking solutions that expand access to quality affordable housing for underserved and low-income people while “catalyzing opportunities in education and forging pathways to economic mobility.” They define education beginning in early childhood and specifically highlight how this effort can use housing to increase availability of and access to high-quality early childhood care and education that meets the needs of families in underserved areas.
This challenge is the last of Fannie Mae’s three-phase plan to promote community capacity to expand access to affordable housing. The challenge launched after Fannie Mae conducted a listening tour in 2017 to learn about the lack of affordable housing in communities across the nation. They found that the issue is multidimensional and requires cross-sectoral solutions that promote sustainable and thriving communities—which include access to affordable housing, as well as to quality child care, employment opportunities, education, transportation, and health care. A 2019 online survey provided further evidence of the problem, finding that over half of Americans cannot afford to live in a community with access to quality schools and child care programs, and nearly one-third struggle to find affordable housing near their workplace. By engaging and learning from different voices, community leaders find new solutions that help meet the needs of working families.
Other innovations for improving access to child care are available and are often community-driven. In May, BPC will host an event on opportunities for improving child care facilities that will bring together examples from around the country—for both center-based and family child care programs in rural, suburban, and urban settings. The event will promote the release of a catalog that highlights innovative efforts and models that expand access to and support child care facility improvements. These examples range from garnering support for full-day child care programs from local businesses by helping them understand the immediate benefits to their employees, to opportunities for co-locating child care programs in commercial and residential space near major transit hubs. The catalog also explores opportunities for promoting child care as part of community development efforts, such as in Opportunity Zones. BPC is also releasing a discussion guide to promote community-level discussions on addressing local child care facility needs.
Recent data show the strong economic impact of child care that exceeds $47 billion in child care revenue and an additional $52 billion in other industries. While child care challenges are still widespread, community leaders are creating new solutions to invest in child care and early learning that meet the unique needs of their children and families. As more opportunities that spur innovations are made available, such as the Fannie Mae Innovation Challenge, local leaders can engage with and learn from experts across housing, economic development, transportation, and other sectors to improve access to child care and help create strong communities.