Forty much-needed child-care workers will be offered a stopgap response for the low pay and high rents they face here on the Cape when a new program of rent subsidies begins in August.
The Housing Assistance Corp., a Hyannis nonprofit, has created the subsidy program specifically for those caring for children and the developmentally delayed.
Called THRIVE (Tools to House Residents in a Vulnerable Economy), the plan will pay $450 per month to landlords of employees in those professions for up to two years.
The program is funded by $135,000 from the Cape and Islands United Way and $50,000 from the Bilezikian Family Foundation. Next year’s funding will come from the American Rescue Plan Act, the Covid recovery program passed by Congress last year.
Alisa Magnotta, executive director of the Housing Assistance Corp., said applications are being accepted now through the organization’s website. Participants must agree to meet with a certified housing counselor to work on financial goals, Magnotta said.
“These are often the lowest-income earners in society with the biggest impact on families and workers,” Magnotta told the Independent.
The program comes at a time when child-care centers are struggling to find workers. Two nonprofits that care for the developmentally disabled have had to close or curtail services in recent months because they could not find employees.
The labor shortage caused Cape Abilities, a nonprofit that provides education, counseling, and employment support for people with disabilities, to close its Eastham center on June 30. Following that announcement, more than 300 people, including state Rep. Sarah Peake and Sen. Julian Cyr, gathered to discuss how to urge the state to increase salaries for caregivers beyond the current $17 per hour.
A lack of staff has also forced Cape Cod Village, an Orleans residential community for adults on the autism spectrum, to operate at half capacity. It can serve only seven residents, Lauren Jones, the co-founder, told the Independent in May.
“We’ve always been white-knuckling it,” said Cindy Horgan, executive director of Cape Cod Children’s Place, an early childhood care and education center in Eastham, 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.”
Horgan said the Children’s Place pays more than most child-care programs: no one earns less than $20 an hour. She still cannot hire the four more full-time employees she needs because it is hard to find high-quality caregivers at that pay rate.
“I am so excited about this program, and congratulations to HAC for thinking outside of the box,” Horgan said.
The idea came to Magnotta last year when her organization was testing out a rental subsidy pilot program for employees in different industries, including restaurants, banks, hospitality, child care, and home health care. During the pilot program, as Magnotta spoke to employers, she realized that the lack of child care “undermines the entire underpinning of our economy,” she said.
Although the program is a welcome innovation, some, like Jay Coburn, executive director of the Eastham-based Community Development Partnership, worry that it doesn’t address the larger housing problems on the Outer Cape, where landlords can charge much more for short-term vacation rentals than the $1,200 to $1,800 a month year-round rentals command.
“I applaud HAC and its funders for launching this initiative,” Coburn said, adding, “Subsidies may be a short-term solution, but the reality is we need to build more housing.”
Magnotta agrees. Rental subsidies won’t solve the housing and labor crisis, but it does offer a way to invest in the workforce, she said.