Editorial: Bend right to push for child care fixes

Maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise, but just as affordable housing is in short supply in Bend, so, too, is child care. In fact, according to Carolyn Eagan, the city of Bend’s economic development director, there’s only one spot available for every three children under the age of 5 in the county.

That makes Bend and Deschutes County a child care desert. Overall, according to a study by Oregon State University that was released in January, only 20 percent of children aged 0 to 5 in the county have access to a certified or registered child care slot.

The city began addressing the problem late in 2018, when it cut transportation system development charges by 70% for child care facilities. Unfortunately, it needs to do more.

Eagan and a panel of four others, including the Bend Chamber of Commerce’s Katy Brooks, talked to city councilors Tuesday night for more than an hour. Brooks discussed the chamber’s effort to create a Childcare Accelerator position and hire someone to fill it. Eagan offered a list of possible changes that the city could do to help improve the situation. Councilors agreed to continue to look into the matter.

Eagan’s suggestions ranged from dropping the requirement for conditional use permits to open child care facilities in residential and industrial areas to putting money directly toward cutting the cost of fees and permits.

That latter is important because while fees and permits can add more than $100,000 to the cost of a project, they don’t increase the value of the project. And bankers are, with good reason, loath to lend more than a project is actually worth.

Other possibilities for change include working to make state building codes more supportive of child care centers, more cuts to system development charges and finding ways to create incentives to create more and bigger child care facilities.

As is the case with the shortage of moderately priced housing, Bend’s child care shortage won’t be corrected overnight. It is, in fact, a statewide problem, with only Jefferson, Wheeler and Sherman counties coming close to filling local child care needs. It may take statewide efforts to turn the situation around.

In the meantime, however, the City Council’s commitment to work on the problem is a badly needed first step. Councilors were right to agree to make it.