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Daycare near Douglas Park blocked by neighbours
Why isn't the decision made based on the interests of the city as a whole?
How a Vancouver neighbourhood fought, and defeated, a daycare. Part two: Vancouver parents desperate for daycare slam city hall rejection. By Dan Fumano in the Vancouver Sun, describing how Vancouver’s Board of Variance rejected an appeal to allow a daycare expansion, at a house across the street from Douglas Park.
We don’t just need housing, we need the services to go along with it: daycare, schools, and transit.
Why is housing in Vancouver so scarce and expensive? One major bottleneck to new housing is that we regulate it like it’s a nuclear power plant.
With daycare, the story is similar. The city estimates that we need another 15,000 licensed daycare spaces. But operating a daycare is a “conditional use”: in order to get a permit, you need the approval of the Director of Planning.
In this case, the daycare operator submitted the application in January. The city rejected it in April, in part because of opposition from neighbours. The operator appealed to the Board of Variance in May, but the opposition continued. The Board of Variance denied the appeal this month, after eight neighbours spoke against it:
The tenor during parts of this meeting almost sounded as if the city was considering building a chemical plant in a residential neighbourhood or bulldozing homes to build a freeway.
What was actually so vehemently opposed by an organized neighbourhood campaign was a proposal for a daycare for eight children.
One of the most eye-opening elements of the story was legal threats from one of the opponents, in his written comments:
If this precedent is set, there is nothing stopping another homeowner to convert their house into a funeral home, motorcycle repair shop, corner store, gym, dry-cleaner etc. Should this application be granted, you can expect legal action against the city on behalf of the neighbourhood. … Govern yourselves accordingly and deny this application.
Other people who wrote in opposition included James Lehto, a former senior planner with the city, and Mark Goodman, publisher of the Goodman Report, who often criticizes NIMBYs.
Fixing the approval bottleneck
Having an approval system with a neighbourhood veto (“if they cry, you must deny”) is a bad idea. People are self-interested. If someone doesn’t have kids, how do they benefit from having more daycare spaces next door?
But if you look at it from the perspective of the entire city as a community, the entire city benefits from more daycare spaces. The decision should be made based on what’s good for the city.
The fix is simple: city council should make operating a licensed daycare an “outright approval use,” instead of a conditional use. From a city website:
In each zoning district, land uses are categorized as either outright or conditional approval uses:
Outright approval uses are those that are allowed, without any conditions, provided that they comply with by-law regulations
Conditional approval uses are those that may be allowed, subject to conditions as determined by the Director of Planning, or may be refused
Economic viability of daycare
Note that approval isn’t the only bottleneck. As with housing projects, economic viability is also a bottleneck.
A post from Reddit: Opening a daycare in New West, this sign cost me 150k. The poster (who operates 48 childcare spaces) explains what the process is like to open a daycare, and responds to people’s comments.
Someone commented: “I've tried to explain before that there's no big profit made in childcare. For some reason Reddit thinks that daycare owners are rolling in dough because of the price of daycare.” The poster’s response:
Heh, ask them to spend 5 min to do the math:
1500$ a child, 4 children per 1 teacher.
6000$ a month.
Subtract teacher salary + taxes + sick days + vacation + benefits ~4000 - 4400
So 1600$ is left.
You also get some additional funding on top of that, but it's not large.
Now subtract the absurd lease, bills to run the place and your 1 million dollar loan over 10 years.
Now, you'll need a manager, staff always have to be in ratio and they might need to step out, call in sick, you need extra workers and they need to be paid.
You need to maintain the place, clean it, buy new toys, books etc.
That 1600$ is doing some real heavy lifting.
Profit margins for daycares are about 6-8%.
The funding scheme is beneficial for parents, but it's riddled with challenges.
The issue with funding and how everything is set up, is that most projects simply cannot be made viable under their guidelines for what we are allowed to charge.
A prime example: In specific locations where establishing a center is already tough, the maximum charge is pegged at $1485. With subsidies covering $900, parents shell out roughly $600. Even if parents were willing to pay more, say $700, the system doesn't permit it. This financial strain is exacerbated when trying to pay staff a living wage. Our infant/toddler staff, for instance, earns between $28-$32/hr inclusive of benefits and government wage subsidies. We could pay less, but that means they cant afford to eat and we just propagate the current problems. We need staff to be happy and have a place to live, taking care of young children is very demanding; both us as owners and the families in our centres want the staff to be happy.
Commercial leasing intensifies these challenges. Unlike residential leases, there's no protective oversight, just negotiations between owners and tenants. Due to current real-estate conditions, it's incredibly one-sided (I will let you guess which side has all the power).
Twitter thread by Reilly Wood with the timeline, the city’s website for the development application, and screenshots of documents. “Ultimately the buck stops with city council, the people who *could* change our bylaws to just allow daycares.”
The city of Vancouver’s childcare design guidelines.