Diversity issue pops up in new guise

News that the city’s infrastructure requirements frustrated a local couple’s efforts to build a day-care center on Madison Avenue, reported elsewhere in this issue, reminded us of a journalism professor years ago who defined an “event” as “a process made visible.”

In this instance, our concern is not with the event. In today’s less-than-robust market for commercial real estate, Doug and Kathy Hartley should be able to hold onto their present Knechtel Way location for the First Years day-care operation, or perhaps find another home.

Nor can we quarrel with the city’s decision to require sidewalks and a paved street, the items that drove up the Hartleys’ construction budget by roughly 20 percent, forcing them to scrap the project. Because the Hartleys specialize in caring for the very young – lots of tots in strollers – sidewalk access seems a reasonable requirement.

But it calls our attention once again to an underlying process – the difficulty of maintaining diversity on an island whose desirability makes it a magnet for the affluent.

Most of the city’s efforts have been directed towards the problem of affordable housing. While that’s plainly necessary to maintaining economic diversity, it’s not all that is needed.

The community also needs to offer the sorts of services that ordinary folks require, a good example being child care for the many, many families who can’t afford nannies.

With day-care costs exceeding public-university tuition in 49 states (according to a 2000 study by the Children’s Defense Fund), diversity goals are ill-served if providers like the Hartleys simply pass on cost increases to their customers.

Recognizing that day-care is a societal issue, not simply an individual one, some states – Washington not among them – have taken steps to increase the availability and quality of day-care workers. California and North Carolina provide salary supplements. North Carolina and Rhode Island subsidize health-insurance premiums for care-givers.

We think the city should consider giving a hand to enterprises like day-care operations, which may not be non-profit organizations but which do furnish essential services to moderate-income residents.

No one we talked to at the city disagreed with that concept. The problem is how to do it.

One possibility might be to create a long-term, low-interest loan fund that could be tapped by the essential enterprise to pay for infrastructure costs.

To some extent, a local improvement district fulfills that function by paying for improvements from city bond money, then recouping costs from the benefitted property over time. That wasn’t the answer for the Hartleys, they say, because the bank was leery of the extra obligation the LID would impose.

But a city-administered fund might create the flexibility to solve that sort of problem by, for example, deferring repayment until bank loans are satisfied.

In this case, another possibility raised by city engineer Jeff Jensen is to see whether Kitsap Transit and First Baptist Church might help develop the property bordering the Hartleys’ site as a park and ride lot. We don’t know how fully it has been explored, but the idea represents the kind of innovative, win-win thinking that the diversity issue will require.

The answers aren’t easy, and the problems arise in numerous and sometimes surprising guises. But the goal of maintaining diversity in our community is worth the effort.

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