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It just got a lot easier to operate a child care center in Austin

Dos mecedoras en una guardería del Goodwill Excel Center.
Gabriel C. Pérez
Until Thursday's vote, child care centers were allowed only in certain parts of the city, creating child care deserts.

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A change to Austin's land rules will expand where child care centers can operate in the city.

Previously, child care centers could be located only in certain areas. On Thursday, the City Council approved a change to the land rules allowing them to open almost anywhere. The vote also reduces permitting and fee barriers.

After housing, child care is one of the biggest expenses for families. Child care experts have said the limited number of facilities in Austin has led to waitlists and high costs, putting it out of reach for many working and low-income families.

Studies have found increasing opportunities to open child care centers, especially home-based facilities, can help alleviate the cost burden, according to city documents.

Council Member Vanessa Fuentes, who led the effort, said there were several barriers keeping people from opening day care centers around the city — mostly related to zoning.

The zoning process can be time consuming and expensive. Additionally, because zoning allowed day cares only in certain areas, there was a lack of them in others. There were 31 ZIP codes in Austin designated as child care deserts, Fuentes said.

“If we’re really serious about addressing affordability we have to make child care more affordable, and we have to make it more convenient for families all across our city,” she said.

With several day care centers facing the loss of pandemic-era funding, Fuentes said she felt a change was needed now more than ever.

Thursday’s vote removes zoning and permitting requirements, increasing the location of where child care centers can be run by more than 200%, she said.

Fuentes said operators would still have to meet state and local regulations, like having an outdoor space for kids to play.

“We know child care costs are a huge factor for many hard-working families," Fuentes said, "and in order to make child care more affordable, we have to make it easier to build child care centers throughout our city."

The move is part of a resolution passed by Fuentes and several of her colleagues earlier this year to change land rules that have been identified as barriers, including parking requirements and capacity rules. The resolution also called for the creation of a grant program, which is already available, to help qualifying day care centers cover city fees associated with opening.

Thursday’s vote was supported by the entire council. Council Member Alison Alter said the changes have been needed for a long time.

“This is something we have been trying to get changed for quite some time, and doing work to make it easier for our child care centers to locate within our communities,” she said. “So thank you for shepherding through this stage of it.”

Council Member Chito Vela also applauded the effort.

“Child care is probably one of the issues we hear about that families struggle with the most," he said. “We have to enable it and make it as cheap as possible, and this is a great item that will help us do that.”

Luz Moreno-Lozano is the Austin City Hall reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @LuzMorenoLozano.
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