Realizing the Benefits of Bringing Early Learning and Affordable Housing Together in Washington
As summer draws to a close, families in King County and across the state of Washington are filling backpacks with supplies before the new school year begins. We typically think of the first day of kindergarten as the beginning of a child’s education, a momentous “first.” In reality, all students start their educational journeys well before they set foot in an elementary school.
A quality education begins in a stable, affordable home together with an environment that fosters early learning – but it’s become increasingly difficult to access both. Many families across the region, from the Puget Sound to farmworker communities, lack this crucial combination. In addition to the state’s severe shortage of affordable homes, an estimated 400 new early learning classrooms are needed by 2023 to meet state-mandated universal early learning enrolment targets.
That’s why Enterprise launched the Home & Hope initiative to accelerate the development of affordable housing with early learning centers on underutilized public and tax-exempt land.
Our recently released report, Home & Hope: Creating Early Learning and Affordable Housing Together, builds upon the experience and expertise of designers, developers, educators, policy makers and funders to guide the development process from site selection to finance, design and, finally, operation.
The report breaks out its recommendations in seven key areas:
- Choosing the right site
- Picking the right partners
- Creating a development program & legal structure
- Considering site and building design
- Assembling capital finance
- Getting licensed
- Considering operating finances
The report shows that combining these two vital components has demonstrated positive outcomes for all members of a family and it also explores ways to improve the process to develop affordable homes with early learning facilities.
Housing and Early Learning: A Great Fit
Early learning centers co-located with affordable housing create significant benefits for working families, resulting in attaining higher levels of education to increased lifetime earnings for the children, as well as greater workforce participation and earnings for the parents, especially for working mothers. And when located near transit, families enjoy greater stability because of shorter commutes, allowing for more enriching time together.
Partner Wisely and Early
Thorough due diligence is key when bringing together potential partners in developing this type of community. This not only ensures shared mission-based values but also instills a confidence that the project can be delivered successfully.
Several important factors should be taken into consideration:
- Who will be served by the proposed development?
- What is the demonstrated financial capacity/viability of either partner?
- Is your early learning operator licensed?
- Does your developer/operator have sufficient development experience?
- Are you ready to partner?
Design matters. Children require special consideration for safety, mental and physical development. High quality, evidence-based design practices can improve early learning outcomes.
The report describes best practices that go beyond standard licensing requirements and explores often overlooked considerations for center-based, child care:
- Site planning
- Floorplan layout
- Classroom design
- Building systems
Where Do We Go from Here?
In addressing the housing and early learning needs of Seattle-King County and beyond, the report closes with six policy recommendations based upon field research or insights from our collaborators. These recommendations are aimed at increasing delivery of this type of mixed-use development by suggesting greater regulatory flexibility, promoting design creativity and unlocking much-needed capital. Changemakers are beginning to take notice with conversations already happening around some of these recommendations.
This research was made possible through the generous support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with the contributions of dozens of practitioners who were interviewed, and under the guidance of the City of Seattle, King County and the Washington State Department of Early Learning.