Build Early: Investing in Co-location of Early Learning Education Centers With Affordable Housing Throughout Oregon
Pictured: PNW Vice President & Market Leader M.A. Leonard (far right) Moderating a Panel during the Early Learning Convening in Woodburn, Oregon
Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon places a high priority on early learning. She emphasizes that lifelong success for children begins with early learning and that we cannot significantly improve our education system without supporting our youngest learners and families. Governor Brown’s commitment to early learning has been the impetus for the leadership of three state departments, the Oregon Housing and Community Services, the Oregon Early Learning Division and the Oregon Health Authority, collaborating to improve early learning outcomes.
Oregon is the fourth least affordable state in the nation when it comes to preschool, and across the state, affordable housing has also emerged as a paramount concern. Currently, Multnomah County sees 40 percent of households spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, which often makes access to quality early learning education out of reach for many families. This steady increase in housing instability and lack of access to early learning education has garnered the attention of key leaders across the state, and within the past year efforts have been underway to find systemic solutions to these two issues affecting Oregonians.
On January 31, 2020 over 90 affordable housing and early learning professionals across Oregon state gathered to discuss the benefits and challenges of co-locating early learning centers in or with affordable housing communities. Enterprise, with the generous support of funding from JP Morgan Chase, was able to help support the event and participate to discuss how Enterprise has been involved at the intersection of affordable housing and early learning in Washington State through the Home and Hope Initiative. The convening followed both statewide and Multnomah County work and was the first statewide event to explore interagency approaches to help families both survive and thrive. The focus was on opportunities and partnerships within Oregon and provided a “think tank” space where possible solutions were identified.
The events of the day included remarks by Carla Strickland of JP Morgan Chase, and an inspirational welcome from Multnomah County Commissioner Vega Peterson who emphasized that, “Families should never have to choose between paying rent and sending their three-year-olds to preschool.” All those present throughout the day held this conviction in mind, and the day ended with a buzz of optimism and anticipation as this critical work moves forward in support of Oregon state families.
The morning panel highlighted the benefits of co-locating early learning centers with affordable housing practitioner panelists from Bend, Portland and Woodburn. Patrick Carey from NeighborImpact and David Brandt from Housing Works discussed their partnership with Ococho Crossing which resulted in a successful affordable housing and Head Start center located in Prineville where a former school was purchased and rehabbed into affordable housing. The cafeteria was then remodeled into a Head Start early learning center. Housing Works was able to offer this space rent free, thereby fitting the operating budget for Head Start. Megan Norris of the Central Oregon Child Care Accelerator emphasized the importance of early learning from an employer perspective and the work she is doing to try to connect systems. While there are many challenges, capital to make facility space available was identified as a key need.
During lunch, M.A. Leonard, of Enterprise Community Partners moderated a follow-up panel including Margaret Salazar, Director of the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department, Miriam Calderon, Oregon Early Learning System Director, Pat Allen, director of the Oregon Health Authority, and Melissa Freeman, Director of Strategic Projects at the Oregon Community Foundation to discuss leveraging resources and relationships to create early learning spaces.
The productive day included opportunities for participants to discuss challenges and resources raised during the panels. Ideas were developed for ways to resolve key funding challenges, and plans were set for expanding the conversation in the near future.
The convening was highly supported through the presence of Oregon state legislators who have an interest in family success.