CHATHAM – It's no secret that housing costs on the Cape – and in Chatham in particular – are a barrier to young people moving and/or staying here. With the average value of a Chatham home running $872,615, the salary it takes to afford a house is beyond those offered by most area employers.
When members of the town's economic development committee (EDC) began looking at how to encourage greater age diversity in town (the selectmen's charge included methods to maintain the “youth” of Chatham, create jobs and improve the demographic balance), they found another major impediment faced by young people, particularly families: the cost of daycare.
From infancy to fifth grade, childcare can cost $106,000, according to a December report the committee sent to the board of selectmen. Weekly costs run from $40 for before-school care to $300 for summer daycare.
“Childcare for working families is a critical financial decision that may heavily impact choices on whether to move to Chatham or remain living in Chatham,” the report stated.
Outside of housing, childcare is the largest component of the cost of living in the area for young families, the committee concluded. Some 20 to 25 percent of Chatham families seek financial assistance to help cover childcare costs. Monomoy Community Services, probably the town's largest single childcare provider, received requests for financial aid totaling $27,000. The agency was able to fund $10,000 of the requests; the town provided another $11,000 in assistance; $3,800 was provided by private contributions; and $2,2000 worth of requests were unfunded, according to the report.
Last year, the town contributed $117,000 to MCAS and $7,500 to the Cape Childcare Network Voucher program, which provides financial assistance for childcare for low income families through the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care.
There are currently 201 Chatham residents in pre-K through fourth grade, representing 6 to 8 percent of households, with another 88 Chatham kids in grades five to seven. Pre-K care, according to the report, averages $280 per week; toddler care $287 per week; and infant care $363 per week.
Given the high costs, increasing childcare services and addressing the high costs “has the potential to create significant economic and demographic benefits to the town,” it states. The EDC recommends several possible solutions for further exploration, including:
Increasing the town's annual funding allocation for MCS;
Increasing annual funding allocation to the Childcare Network Voucher program and expanding outreach, including considering partnering with or administrating Chatham applications through MCS;
Creating a public/private partnership to expand services by contracting with local care providers;
Coordinating with neighboring towns to develop a centralized childcare facility for infants and pre-K children;
Looking at the potential for implementing a program with the Monomoy schools such as a childcare program established at Wellesley High School in 1979;
Providing full-time, town-funded childcare.
The EDC is tentative slated to discuss the report with the board of selectmen in April. Meanwhile, the group is delving into other economic factors that contribute to the town's diversity and demographic balance, including the mix of businesses in town.