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Life In the City: The Daycare Hustle!

I’m just a country girl with big city dreams. At least that’s what I tell myself every time I’m confronted with something that seems out of the ordinary. City life isn’t for the faint of heart or for those of us who like to carefully watch our pennies. There is a price (usually a steep one) associated with everything. On a trip back to my native state, Alabama, I scrunched my face and squinted my eyes when I realized I could buy milk and eggs for what seems to be half of what they cost in the District of Columbia. As I’ve gotten married and more recently, had a child, I have soon found out the grocery store isn’t the only place with prices exceeding my expectation… and my pocketbook.

Fortunately, for the first year of my son’s life, we had willing family members who came for extended visits and helped fill our childcare gaps.  For us, this worked out great because his initial medical issues would have made it hard to comfortably place him in a traditional daycare; however, that wasn’t a permanent solution. A few months ago, once all the family had gone home, we started the daycare search. Of course, my husband entirely entrusted me with the process, and so I trudged around the city going on site visit after site visit.  We had already heard all the horror stories. You need to be on the list before you’re even pregnant.  Your boss needs to write you a letter of recommendation. You need to cough up three goats, two cows and one chicken every month. It was all true!

Our initial search started near our home in southeast DC. Prices weren’t as cheap as Alabama but were reasonable compared to the area – about $700-$1200 a month. However, I hung up each call more frantic and anxious than the one before. There were literally no openings at ANY of the daycare centers within my geographic boundaries. Everything near my house was entirely full until basically 2027.

Time was starting to run out, and I entered into full on panic mode. By this point, I was working from home or trying to bring my kid into the office.  We were still on several waitlists, but nobody was calling me back.  We decided to try a home daycare in our neighborhood—one of the few that had space—at first it was a relief, but after a few short weeks, we realized it wasn’t a good fit.  And so, we were back to the daycare hustle.  I decided to expand my search closer to my office and voila!  I lucked out and nabbed what had to be the only open toddler space in all of DC. It was more than double the cost of what we were paying the home daycare, but we realized that at this point, peace of mind was everything. But still.  When my friends in Alabama discuss their $80/week daycare center, I cringe wondering how people—myself included—afford to live and raise a family in this city when daycare costs are comparable to mortgage and rent.

Finding suitable, reliable, affordable childcare in the District shouldn’t be this difficult. I’ve watched this panicked scene unfold several times in our office as babies make their debut. Families have to make really hard life choices because of child care, like deciding if it’s really worth it for both parents to work. When calculating the costs, some families decide it’s better for one parent to stay home. Let’s keep it real. The majority of the time this falls on the woman’s career taking a back seat. No matter who has to stay at home, the impact is negative because it takes valuable people away from the workforce. It sets them back in their career in terms of upward mobility and keeping their skills sharpened, and financially their future social security takes a hit. Emotionally this is draining because these are parents who want to work but have to choose not to. Unfortunately, our institutions are just not set up to accommodate two working parents, especially in major cities. Not only is the cost challenging but think about our institutions and how they are not designed to fit homes with working parents.  (yes, this is a tangent but it’s my blog) The post office and schools close before most parents get off work. Schools open from 8-3 or 7-3 but “typical” work hours are 9-5 leaving parents scrambling to identify before and after school care, juggle schedules or rely on family for support. In a place like DC, where many people live far from family the latter is usually not an option.

Reform is necessary in the childcare space so that it is affordable and accommodates two working class parents. Beyond childcare, we have to rethink the way our institutions are designed and if they support the way we work or maybe the way we work needs to change. These issues aren’t mutually exclusive. There is much “talk” about it but working parents need action. It shouldn’t be a hustle to find quality, affordable, reliable daycare that allows both parents to work. We have put a man on the moon and even developed driverless cars. Certainly, our childcare can be better than this.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

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Reflecting on the Past, Ready for the Future!

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The new year is a time to reflect on the past and set goals for the future. The past year brought us satisfaction and challenges that allowed us to grow as individuals and as a team. We hope 2018 comes with opportunities to help communities become more sustainable.  

Over the past year, we have continued to grow in the region leading projects such as Vision Zero in Alexandria, VA, providing technical research on innovative beneficial reuse of dredged materials in Maryland while expanding our reach to our not-so-distant neighbor Philadelphia, PA to lead the University City District Just Spaces project.

At home in DC, we are continuing our work on projects such as the Southeast Boulevard and Barney Circle Environmental Assessment as well as the GreenWrench Automotive Pollution Prevention Program.

While these projects represent a snippet of the contributions we are making in the planning and environmental realm, we anticipate continued growth in this new year. Our main goal for 2018 is to continue developing and implementing creative solutions that will help communities achieve their social, cultural, economic, and environmental goals. As such, we look forward to working with new and existing clients; meeting other communities and leaders; and learning and implementing other methods and practices into our projects, such as public art.

We pride ourselves on being forward-thinkers; therefore, we believe that creative solutions are the most effective way to tackle the challenges facing communities today. Later this month, we will tell you a little bit more about our “refresh” for 2018. We look forward to an exciting and fulfilling 2018.

On behalf of the entire Nspiregreen team, we wish you a Happy New Year!

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I bought a fixer upper in Brightwood

Homebuying in the District is not easy given the rising home prices, but it is also not impossible. After four months of searching and putting in an offer on three houses, we finally closed on a single family attached (duplex) in Brightwood Manor Park. (I’ve since learned that my specific neighborhood is Manor Park)

Did we get what we want?

In my last post, I talked about what was important to us as we started the homebuying process. Fortunately, we got most of what we wanted.

  • Affordability: The home was within our budget. We crunched the numbers and determined that we could pay the mortgage on the home and the condo with one person’s salary.
  • Location: As a co-owner of a DC Certified Business Enterprise, staying in the District was important to maintaining our status as a District-owned business, meaning the business’ owners are residents of the DC. The baseline criteria for the CBE is being District-based business, but we get additional points for being District-owned as well. We have a slightly longer commute to work than from our apartment in Navy Yard. Our previous commute was each 25 minutes and now I have a 35-minute one seat ride on the 63 Metrobus. My boyfriend’s commute is 45 minutes via walking and Metrorail.
  • Low Maintenance Green Space: We have two small patches in the front, a small side yard/walkway, and a small rear yard. Since the house sat vacant for two years, the weeds were taller than me. It took us two weekends, a machete, a chainsaw, and weed killer to remove all of the weeds. We mulched the front yard and decided to use the rear for parking. Needless to say, we won’t have to cut grass.
  • Schools: Our boundary schools are Whittier Education Campus and Coolidge High School. The Whittier Education Campus had a boost in test scores this past school year and Coolidge is in the middle of a renovation. There are also plenty of good charter schools in walking distance.
  • Walkability: We are within walking distance to recreation centers, the public library, mom and pop restaurants, and grocery stores. Admittedly, we did buy a used car, after being carfree for over five years, to accommodate the multiple trips to the hardware store to fix up the house.
  • Size: Our home has three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a finished basement. It’s a perfect size for us now and as we grow our family. The main floor is semi-open, which is great for entertaining.

Trade-Offs

To get everything we wanted, including affordability, the compromise was the condition of the home. We viewed a few “flipped” homes that were move in ready. However, I had concerns about the quality of the renovations after the experience of my friends and WAMU’s reporting a few years ago about how developers sometimes cut corners to quickly flip homes.  The house we purchased was a rental property for a decade, then sat vacant for over two years. It took us about a month to get the house in move in ready condition, including upgrading the electrical and plumbing systems, deep cleaning, and putting on a new roof.

Over the next year we will completely gut and rebuild the kitchen and basement. During the basement reconstruction, we will remove all the remaining galvanized steel pipes in the house. The downside is having to live in the house during construction. However, we will have the peace of mind knowing everything was built to our specifications and standards.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

 

 





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