There is a sliver of good news this week in the child-care department: a rental subsidy program administered by the Housing Assistance Corp. will begin next month, offering $450 per month toward rent payments to 40 Cape Cod workers who care for children or the developmentally disabled.
The Independent’s K.C. Myers reported last year on the daunting conditions facing early childhood caregivers and program managers on the Outer Cape — and those conditions have only gotten worse since then. Annual salaries for child-care workers average about $30,000. Provincetown was paying $40,000 a year to full-time employees of its early childhood program (the highest pay in the region), but that still wasn’t enough to attract applicants to the job, Myers found. And that was a year ago. Extreme increases in the cost of housing — and an almost total lack of rentals — mean that what was a crisis last year has now become a debacle.
“Housing is so tight — and so pricey — that people fear it will change the very character of the Cape, with nowhere for workers to live,” wrote Beth Teitell in the Boston Globe in May. “The squeeze is so pronounced that it’s tightening the rental market — as landlords cash out and sell their places instead of continuing to rent them.”
“We’ve always been white-knuckling it,” says Cindy Horgan, director of Cape Cod Children’s Place in Eastham, in this week’s report on the shortage of child-care workers. “With Covid, someone stepped on our hands and we fell off the cliff. There is a real problem here when child care pays less than Stop & Shop.”
Between 2009 and 2019, enrollment in the Provincetown, Truro, and Wellfleet schools dropped by 24 percent. Recognizing the long-term implications of having no young families, all of the towns on the Outer Cape have adopted strategies to help keep them here. These include Provincetown’s free child-care and early education programs for the children of residents and workers, and vouchers to defray the costs of preschool.
But free tuition and vouchers won’t solve the problem if there is no one to actually be with the children. The new rent subsidy may be a short-term solution, says Jay Coburn of the Community Development Partnership, “but the reality is we need to build more housing.”
Truro’s fight for affordable housing has become a brutal slog. A disingenuous campaign against the 39-unit Cloverleaf project delayed it for years, while little progress has been made at the 70-acre Walsh property, an obvious site for new housing next to the Truro Central School.
Now, a test of Wellfleet’s resolve to act on housing has arrived, as the zoning board considers a comprehensive permit for 46 units at Long Pond Village, across from the elementary school.
The opponents of affordable housing in these towns have delayed and derailed projects, often with lawsuits and crocodile tears that they support working people — “just not this proposal.” Given the state of the housing market here, what’s being derailed is not just apartments but the very existence of children on the Outer Cape.